Sidelined for almost three months after their NHL quarter-final defeat to Wexford, the qualifiers seemed to offer the perfect, indeed the only, opportunity for the county to hit upon a settled side.
Instead, they approach tomorrow’s tie against Kilkenny with umpteen questions not just about their form but matters as basic as what shirts will be on what backs.
David is a case in point. Played at midfield against Clare, the Kilnadeema-Leitrim hurler was at half-back for the defeat of Antrim last time out and he freely admits to not knowing what his role will be in Croke Park.
“I’m just happy as long as I’m on the team,” says versatile the 27-year-old. “We have a luxury in that there is very little difference … you could pick 20 to 25 players who could go out and do a job. Trying to get the right blend for each team you are playing against, that’s management’s job and we’re fine with that.”
If the musical chairs don’t bother Tierney, the performance levels do. Average at best in their first outing against Laois, they ended up on the wrong end of the scoreline in a forgettable game at Cusack Park and even the hammering of Antrim needs to be qualified.
“That was a bit false. I wouldn’t read too much into that because we weren’t having it all our own way at the start before their full-forward got sent off. There was a point or two in it at that stage but we had the wind at our back in the second half and Pearse Stadium is a big pitch. It is easy to clock up a big score there.”
The bottom line is that Galway have yet to hit any sort of stride under Loughnane, who admits that anything less than a blood and thunder display against the Leinster champions will spell the end of his brief stay with the county.
Tierney accepts that the product hasn’t been up to scratch so far. If the lack of intensity against Laois and Antrim was somewhat understandable, the Clare encounter wasn’t, especially given Loughnane’s efforts to up the ante prior to it.
The suggestion in some quarters was that Galway were operating at less than 100%. “That’s news to me,” said Tierney. “I don’t care what part of the country you are from but you always want to beat the neighbours if you can. We wanted to top the group. As it is now we’re meeting a provincial winner and we only have ourselves to blame for that.”
What confounds Tierney is the fact that training has been super-competitive and high-scoring: Kilkenny-like if you will. The task now is to transfer that hunger and effort onto the pitch at HQ this weekend.
“The Clare game was a bit of a lull, performance-wise. Training had been going very well up to that, matches had been very competitive between the lads and then we made a lot of strange decisions on the field on the day against Clare.
“We weren’t taking the right options, there was loads of different scenarios and mistakes. We’ve looked at it. Hopefully we can learn from it and move on from there.”
What is certain is that the buck stops here for Loughnane and this Galway team. If anything, Kilkenny have enjoyed less competitive fare than them this summer but that hasn’t blunted their edge.
Offaly might have stayed with them for 35 minutes in the provincial semi-final but Wexford were a beaten docket by the end of a first quarter where they trailed by eight points and Tierney accepts that the opening exchanges will set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
“You’ve got to stay with them in the first half and push on then if you can. You don’t go about fearing other teams. You have to concentrate on your own and hope for the best after that.”
Loughnane has been up to his old tricks before this one, casting dispersions on Kilkenny’s defensive methods but Tierney waves away such sideshows. This game isn’t about managers, it is about Galway’s players drawing a line in the sand.
“We just concentrate on our own game. I wouldn’t read too much into it. As a group of players we are around long enough. There’s the guts of ten or 12 of us who have five or six years experience and we always look forward to the challenge Kilkenny bring.”