TEN weeks have drifted by since Galway last felt the taste of competitive hurling on their lips but defender John Lee is hoping they can transfer the intensity of their preparations on the training field to the championship in Belfast this Saturday.
Galway have attempted to fill the void with a conveyor belt of challenge matches against the likes of Wexford, Cork and Clare, while club duties have also been to the fore for the squad in the last two months.
When it comes to intra-squad training matches, none fire the imagination like Kilkenny’s legendary efforts in Nowlan Park but, according to Lee, Galway’s are no place for the feint-hearted either. “If we could reproduce what we are doing in training we would have an unbelievable team,” said Lee. “The intensity of training is unreal. I don’t know how we can’t transform that into matches. There is a bit of belting going on and there has to be with lads fighting for places.”
If it is early summer and the conversation is with a Galway hurler then the debate inevitably turns to championship structures and their effect on Galway’s All-Ireland chances.
The rejigged system which sees Galway and Antrim paired off first up for the foreseeable future has fallen foul of the Ulster county while Galway are fearful that their opening fixture and its successor, almost definitely against Laois, will leave them unprepared for the jump in standards that an All-Ireland quarter-final demands.
Like his county colleagues, Lee adopts the chorus line that pines for inclusion in Leinster but he doesn’t harp on about it.
“I’m not too sure of (the new qualifiers) but I don’t think it matters a huge amount to us. We play Antrim and then probably a loser in Leinster so, at the end of the day, it is going to come down to a knock-out game in the quarter-final. We have been focused from a distance out on a knock-out competition so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
For all its critics, this year’s system has at least brought to an end the qualifying group stages which, among its other faults, allowed teams to lose two championship matches and yet still make it through to the last eight.
Lee, however, doesn’t share in the joy at the group system’s demise.
“We went down to Ennis last year with the full intention of trying to win the game and we were blown out of it. Clare hit us with their intensity.
“It knocked us back a good bit. The qualifiers were a huge benefit for us. They showed up a lot of problems.”
Their improved showing in the league compared to the effort 12 months previously was no accident with Ger Loughnane shelving the practice of chopping and changing teams, sometimes in the minutes prior to throw-in.
The Clare man handed starting places to just 20 players in his side’s seven league games this year. Seven started them all, another half dozen were first-choice in six.
Add the Portumna trio of Damian Hayes and the two Cannings and Galway’s stability is obvious.
Lee is one of the ever-present seven and he admits that the continuity and lack of uncertainty over team selection have probably helped.
“For some players they would like to be thinking about the game a few days in advance. For me personally, it didn’t bother me at all. This year the team is named well in advance of the game so I’m sure it benefits a few the lads.”
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