Much has changed since eight months ago and yet some things remain the same. Asked earlier this year if Galway were under added pressure, Cunningham’s successor Micheál Donoghue denied it: “I don’t think so. History has shown every championship year is different.”
David Burke, the man Donoghue appointed captain for 2016, felt differently: “There’s pressure on players anyway. You’re starting a new year and there’s pressure in every game to win. Collectively, there’s pressure on all of us to perform and the league will be competitive but we’re just hoping to get enough wins under our belt to get to a quarter-final.”
After the coup against Cunningham, rightly or wrongly, it was interpreted he wasn’t good enough for the players. Yet recent remarks made by Burke would indicate confidence is a difficulty for them.
“You have to keep believing though you are good enough on any day to beat any team, no matter who they are. That is definitely a mental thing in Galway. We kind of let the public’s perception seep into our thinking or our subconscious in a way at times.”
No prizes for guessing the pressure Burke speaks about is driven by the Galway people but, as Pete Finnerty points out, they have brought that upon themselves.
“Do the Galway people say to the lads, ‘do your best, lads, and we’ll be happy’? No. I don’t think anything but an appearance, a good appearance, in an All-Ireland final will be accepted by the Galway people. With all that went on in November and December and with the demands the players made, they have to realise by making those demands they were nailing their flag to the mast and putting pressure on themselves.
“Now they have what they wanted. Micheál has accepted the challenge and Micheál is good enough for the challenge. I’m sure they sat down with him and told him what direction they wanted to go in and he told them what direction he wanted to go in. It’s up to them now to combine that direction. The people of Galway are expecting as much as Anthony delivered, which was bringing them to an All-Ireland final where at half-time they were leading.”
Ahead of renewing acquaintances with Kilkenny in Nowlan Park tomorrow, two-time All-Ireland winner Finnerty believes the players, not Cunningham, remain answerable for a miserable second-half showing that he feels denied the county their best chance of bridging the gap to their annexing of the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1988.
“You take the poxy goal that we got at the end of the game, which should have been a free out (to Kilkenny) after the first altercation. You take out the two points our replacement wing-back David Collins scored from play and the sumtotal for our six forwards was two more points in the second half, one from play and one from a free.Regardless of the mistakes Cunningham did or didn’t make, our forwards scored two points in over 35 minutes of an All-Ireland final.
“I’m not bitter about the players — they’re entitled to demand whatever they want — but it’s time they started walking the walk they’ve been talking about. We’re long enough being the bridesmaids at every party, contesting All-Irelands then disappearing for five years and coming back with another good team.
“It’s down to the players, them standing up and taking on the responsibility. If you can’t do that against Dublin in Parnell Park, it’s going to be very difficult to expect somebody to stand up in an All-Ireland final against Colin Fennelly or Jackie Tyrrell or players like that. When things go wrong they grasp the game. There were days when they weren’t All-Ireland winners. At the moment, I don’t see those players in Galway.”
The lack of intensity from Galway in last month’s games against Cork and Dublin worries Finnerty — “they hardly broke a hurl in anger”. Although Cork were disposed of easily in Pearse Stadium, he compared it to “a challenge game”. “Cork scored the same as Waterford and Kilkenny in their game combined where every point was precious and fought for”.
Galway’s defence, he feels, rely on their attack to get them out of trouble too much.
“In a lot of cases in the modern game, not alone with Galway, the art of marking has gone completely. I remember back in the day you’d read the Examiner or the Independent the following morning and most of the writers would have their ratings and if I got a nine then Tony O’Sullivan got a four. If I got a four then Tony O’Sullivan got a nine. You’d never see Tony O’Sullivan getting a nine and me getting an eight. That’s gone out of the game and it’s hurt teams like Galway, because it’s still prominent in Kilkenny because every ball is fought for tooth and nail.
“I remember a few years back there was a photo of Michael Kavanagh, who might have had nine or 10 Leinster titles and four or five All-Irelands at the time. Himself and Ger Farragher were going for a ball inside in Pearse Stadium on a wet, miserable day and the sheer determination and hunger in Kavanagh’s face, whereas Farragher was sauntering behind him as ‘if I get it, I get it, if I don’t, I don’t’.”
Lack of leadership after Joe Canning went off against Dublin also concerned Finnerty. He would prefer to rest Canning in the latter rounds but knows if the result doesn’t go their way tomorrow he’ll be expected to fend off a potential relegation threat.
“I take a lot out of the performance against Tipp last year,” says the Mullagh man, “probably the greatest game of hurling I ever witnessed Galway winning. I still take a lot out of the first half in the All-Ireland final. I remember speaking to Tony Hanahoe at half-time and he mentioned a great race trainer who once said there was no problem going ahead in a race but staying there was the thing.
“At half-time, Kilkenny looked a spent docket. We were in a good place against a renowned team. We can get back there but we have to identify and rectify our weaknesses. There are no teething times any more. Galway people want a performance.”