Galway attacker Shane Walsh has admitted he found it difficult at first to get to grips with the team’s new counter-attacking strategy.

The Tribesmen are surprise Allianz League finalists in their first year back in the top flight following promotion.

They’re one of just two teams in the entire country unbeaten so far and have conceded only one goal, to Monaghan, in seven top-flight games.

Consistency has been a big problem for Galway in recent systems but boss Kevin Walsh has found it by putting an extra emphasis on defence.

It’s a break from their traditional attacking style and pundit Colm O’Rourke claimed they’ve “turned a bit ugly” while Joe Brolly described it as a “1-13-1” formation.

Walsh, one of the most naturally talented forwards in the game, acknowledged that he found it difficult at first but now enjoys having a defined way of playing.

“It’s not always easy because it takes time for players to adapt and I was probably one of the ones in terms of that because I was maybe a bit more free-flowing before,” said Walsh.

"Some would say that’s better for you but I prefer now to be part of a solid structure that is in place for years to come, so young lads coming through know exactly what is expected rather than having a free for all.

I still think we are adapting. The results are saying this is a great system but we are still learning and when we train after games we are always looking at things that need improving.

“It’s not a thing that we won so many games and things are perfect, it’s about getting more from the group.

“It is all about this gradual progression that we are making. The curve is going up but we need to keep it going that way. We are not saying that we have reached our peak at any one stage of the league, we are just trying to continue on the way we are going, just look for each performance to get better and better.”

Galway drew with Dublin last Sunday week and the sides will meet again this weekend in the Division 1 final at Croke Park.

It’s a huge opportunity for Galway, who have won just one league and championship game at Croke Park since 2001, to prove that they’re the real deal and can cope at GAA headquarters.

Walsh said he’s expecting a terrific atmosphere, with Dublin set to draw a large crowd.

“It will be like the welcome we gave them in Pearse Stadium, we will expect something similar in Croke Park,” he said. 

It is going to be a difficult occasion for us because it will be our first time in a Division 1 final as a group and we’re playing the All-Ireland champions in Croke Park. They are so used to the ground.

“But we can only concentrate on ourselves really, we can’t be worrying about Dublin. You often see teams going out to play Dublin and they are beaten before they go out.

“We won’t be looking at what Dublin can do. We have seen it before, we are long enough watching them on television to know what they can do to teams.”

Croke Park’s larger dimensions should suit a relatively young Galway team full of pace.

“It will only suit us if we get a performance, that is what it comes down to. You can have as much pace as you want but you could be chasing shadows, especially against a team like Dublin. That is how it can end up.”

Walsh described the glamour final, Galway’s first since 2006, as a great occasion but insisted it won’t define their season, win or lose.

The more important date in supporters’ minds is May 13 when they are due to play Mayo, their great rivals in the Connacht championship.

“It’s great for the confidence of the group to be going into Croke Park to play Dublin in front of a big crowd. It’s a great experience lads are going to get, myself included.

I have never played in front of a crowd like what is going to be there. We wouldn’t be saying our year is going to be defined by this but it’s a chance of silverware and a chance to play Dublin in Croke Park.

Galway have shown the best and worst of themselves in recent seasons, beating Mayo twice in huge championship games only to subsequently slip up against Tipperary and Roscommon.

“When you are going out playing games and you win by five or six and go out the next day and lose by five or six, you ask yourself where is the level of consistency,” said Walsh. “That’s where we were missing out.

“We could turn it on one day but lose the next day no matter who the challenge was against, whether it was a perceived weak team or a perceived big team.

“That was the big thing, to try to get the base right and start from there.”

PaperTalk GAA Show: Mayo survival, backing McBrearty, Wexford 'train on' and Cuala join annals

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