“You have to ask do they not have the mental toughness or physical ruthlessness, that savage will to win?” said Noel Lane.
Dual All-Ireland-winning captain Conor Hayes (also managed Galway to an All-Ireland final in 2005, as did Lane in 2001) was equally blunt: “I’ll be shot for saying this but some of these lads’ biggest worry with 10 minutes to go seemed to be whose jersey they’d bring home… When backs are to the wall they don’t come out fighting. They remain against the wall. They capitulate too easily.”
Most scathing of all, Brendan Lynskey, selector a few years ago under Ger Loughnane, rock-hard centre-forward of the 80s and 90s, said: “My honest opinion is that three or four of the lads on the current senior team are not entitled to be wearing a maroon and white jersey.
“Why are we afraid to put up our hand to catch the ball? God almighty, fine, you might get a few broken nails or broken fingers — we got them and played on with them. Are we taking the easy options now? I’m trying to be as mild as I can but I just cry with vexation at what’s happening in Galway hurling. Our players are a little bit on the shy side. Afraid to put up their hands or a little bit cowardly.
“Are we prepared to win the hard ball? We’re not.”
Strong stuff, badly timed, says another former Galway great, and former teammate of the three above, Pete Finnerty. “Look, the lads who questioned the players were entitled to their say. They’re all very passionate about Galway hurling, they’ve all put their shoulders to the wheel, became managers or selectors, and it’s probably more frustrating for them than for most of us. !
“But I think the timing of the criticism was wrong — had it come on the Wednesday it would have given everyone time to talk about it, to absorb it, get around it, and use it as motivation.
“You’ve seen what happened since, they’ve taken it on the chin, they’ve accepted the criticism, they’ve said the lads had a point. But the way it happened they didn’t have that time and I think it hurt them, it damaged them.”
As for the thrust of the criticism: the lack of courage, again Finnerty begs to differ.
“It’s not a question of courage, it’s a lack of self-belief. We haven’t got past an All-Ireland quarter-final since 2005 and that has affected confidence. Waterford should never have beaten us two years ago, nor Tipperary last year, but you saw what that did for their self-confidence — Waterford won Munster last year, Tipperary went on to win the All-Ireland. That’s gone from us. It hasn’t helped either the way players have been thrown around.
“Think of any great team down the years, you could name the right half-back, the corner-back. Now look at this team. Joe Canning — is he a full-forward, a wing-forward, a centre-forward, what is he? What was Tony Óg Regan up to last year, he was everything and anything. You have to persist with lads, you have to let them play their way into a position.
“I played in four or five All-Irelands but the lads I played with all played in the same position — you didn’t see (Tony) Keady going to full-back, or (Gerry) McInerney to the corner, you didn’t see me going left half-back. Fellas knew where they were playing and if a fella couldn’t hurl, he came off. !
“David Burke was midfield for the last two years and doing well, then he’s at wing-back, asking himself, ‘what am I back here for, am I doing something wrong?’.
“Even when I was going as well as I could possibly go, if I was taken off — well I was never taken off, but even if there was a comment passed at training or if I saw a fella being put on the A team before me, that puts a bit of doubt in your head, and that does a fella no good at all.
“It’s confidence the Galway lads need to hurl with, not fear.”
This evening, however, Finnerty sees hope in his native county.
“Shane Kavanagh is back at full-back, Tony Óg at centre-back, and that was the formula that worked last year, both of them close to All Stars.
“Galway would want to steamroll Clare for the first 20 minutes.! If they get over Clare, give the performance we know they can give, they will be a very dangerous team in this championship, even for the big guns.
“It’s a new championship now, knockout all the way. Galway have to come out totally determined, the whole panel and the management team one unit. If ever they had to make a statement, they have to make it now – it’s that important. If we lose, we’ll go back as far as we’ve ever been, we’ll have nowhere to go. They have to get it right.”