THE U21 hurling grade has been a happy hunting ground for Galway yet current team boss Anthony Cunningham still believes their record can be enhanced.
Tomorrow night Cunningham brings his charges to Thurles for a Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21HC decider against Tipperary, after just one competitive match this season.
Rather than be pleased with a bye into an All-Ireland semi-final, Cunningham believes the development of young Galway players may be stunted by a lack of provincial competition.
“That’s a valid point. We live side by side with Clare and if you compare a Clare U21 player in the last three years versus a Galway player, that equivalent Clare player would have had far more matches than his counterpart in Galway.
“It is a loss to Galway not being involved in a provincial setup and it could lead to the lack of development that has happened.
“The first game every year is of massive difficulty for us because you’re playing a team that has maybe two or three provincial matches. We were forced last year to play Clare and then when it was a draw we were forced to play extra-time whereas a replay would have suited better.
What we see is that guys have improved since the Dublin match this year, it’s even evident in our training.”
Cunningham believes there are options available such as entering the Leinster championships at underage level or the implementation of a national round-robin system.
“To get a mini-Champions League set-up for the Under-21 championship, it’s something new that should be looked at.”
Galway entered this season’s U21 championship without the mercurial talents of Joe Canning for the first time since 2006. Cunningham believes there has been more of a team effort this year.
“The type of game we’ll be playing is more of a team game. I think any team that you see now has to evolve around a team, not individuals because they can be marked. There’s a very strong base as most of last year’s minor winning team we would have looked at and many from the year before that were in hard luck in the final against Kilkenny.
“This grade is all about development really and what we’d focus on is they have to learn more. Minor tends to be a lot of skill and now the game up to senior level has gone a lot more on the tackle.”
Meanwhile Galway captain David Burke is determined that he and his teammates will not be sidetracked by the furore surrounding the venue for tomorrow’s game, and will instead focus on their performance.
“The players would have been unhappy and maybe the supporters but we’ll leave that to the county board. We’re trying to concentrate on our own game and not get sidetracked. We concentrated on training and there was never any talk of boycott with us in training. We pulled the lads together and said we wouldn’t read the papers or listen to anyone. That’s half the battle.”
Burke admits that he was impressed by the performance of the Tipperary U21 players in last Sunday’s senior decider.
“Tipperary have a serious team with eight senior panel members so we’re just concentrating on the match alone. I thought they were brilliant last Sunday. They were super throughout the game. Pádraic Maher got everything at centre back, Brendan’s workrate was unreal and that was key for them. We’re counting on each other. It worked for us the last day against Dublin and it’s the little hooks and blocks that count. Hopefully, we can bring the same performance the next day and we won’t be far away.”
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