Galway searching 'every nook and cranny' for marginal gains
By John Harrington
The Galway footballers have progressed a lot in the last couple of years, but how far are they still away from where they want to get to?
Last year’s League Final and All-Ireland semi-final defeats to Dublin showed they’re close to being a team capable of winning national silverware, but that five to ten per cent improvement they still need to make is often the hardest gain for any team.
Veteran defender Gary O’Donnell has been around the block long enough to know that for a fact, but he’s also confident that every effort is being made to ensure this generation of Tribesmen footballers realise their full potential.
“That's exactly what we highlighted after this year,” admitted O’Donnell at the AIB launch of the All-Ireland SFC.
“The progression that we have made is quite often, I wouldn't say the easiest part of it, but it's the part that a lot of teams find that they can do. But it's the last 5% that's the hardest.
“We're looking at every nook and cranny that we can to find that edge.
“Video analysis, preparation off the pitch, style of play, we're doing everything we can in regards to that.
“We know it's not going to be easy because there are other teams around us chomping at the bit as well too. Dublin are going for five in a row as well so they're one of the finest teams that you could come across.
“We know there's very little margin for error as well too. Considering our All-Ireland semi-final last year, we need to learn from those mistakes and I think we might do as well.”
Galway exceeded most peoples’ expectations by reaching the League Final and All-Ireland semi-final last year, but it’s a good sign of the group itself that they felt deflated by the manner in which they fell short on both occasions.
“We were very disappointed after the Dublin game (All-Ireland semi-final) last year,” said O’Donnell. “We spurned two or three goal chances, when we went two points up we missed a penalty, missed a one-on-one.
“We felt we were causing them trouble but at the same time we went in two points down at half-time and at the start of the second-half too we were well in it but we just weren't getting the scoreboard ticking.
“That was one thing we addressed and we were very disappointed we didn't just push on but that's the reality of it. A team like Dublin are going to punish you.
“They're not the champions for no reason and that's something we'll have to address this year when we're in a game that we make it count. The summer will tell that story.”
When Tipperary manager Liam Kearns was asked recently what team he felt was best equipped to stop Dublin’s drive for five All-Ireland titles this year he plumped for Galway.
His reasoning was that they don’t just have some very talented players and serious strength in depth, they also have an inbuilt healthy arrogance that has always been the trademark of Galway football teams.
“I suppose being from Galway, traditionally we would have always liked to think we could be competitive,” admits O’Donnell.
“But, as I said already, that wasn't always the case. We'd like to think and the confidence to think that we can do it otherwise we wouldn't be where we are.
“But, as I said, other teams are probably thinking the same thing. Underage and the amount of footballers we have, we could field nearly two sets of forwards anyway and they would be equally as good as each other.
“We certainly have the raw materials, it's just a matter of nurturing it into the best balance in our first 15 as well as the bench. The bench is a huge thing nowadays as well. We didn't have that over the years so we're building that all the time.
“You see in the bigger games it's often the five or six lads who come in who tilt the result in your favour. Everything will hopefully come together when it needs to.”
For now, O’Donnell and his team-mates know better than to cast an eye ahead of any challenge further than the next one they’re faced with.
London gave them plenty of it in Connacht SFC quarter-final, and O’Donnell is expecting Sligo to tear into them with the same sort of gusto in Sunday’s Connacht SFC semi-final.
“Yeah, of course,” said O’Donnell. “Everyone talks about Galway, Mayo, maybe Roscommon. And Leitrim and Sligo often aren't mentioned in the conversation. They'll be gunning for us at the weekend and rightly so.
“We need to be ready. We've trained well up to this point, we have players coming back and competition will be good for places, so hopefully all will go well.”