Loss of Canning and a raw look to Tribesmen gives Blues edge on league bow
ALL changed, changed utterly, since these two counties last bumped into each other on the spring circuit.
Eleven months ago, Dublin frittered away two league points that were there for the Parnell Park taking. They perished on the rock of Eanna Ryan’s injury-time goal, Galway’s unlikely victory made possible by the home side’s spendthrift accumulation of 19 wides.
Afterwards, Galway manager John McIntyre concluded: “I thought, at the end of the game, we knew how to win the game more than Dublin.”
But, as we said at the outset, all changed.
McIntyre is no longer Galway manager — his tenure was grievously wounded that summer by defeat to Dublin in the Leinster semi-finals, and then fatally so by their abject collapse to Waterford at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
Enter a new manager, Anthony Cunningham, whose ability to concentrate 100pc on Galway over the past few weeks has been compromised (understandably so) by his ongoing heroics with the footballers of Garrycastle.
Not that Dublin should view Cunningham’s double-jobbing role (for one final month) as a reason to suspect that Galway won’t be well drilled here. His varied career in management has been a tale of near-continual success, of coaxing the best out of whatever group he commands, be they footballers or hurlers.
He previously brought St Brigid’s to a Connacht club football title before doing likewise in Leinster with Garrycastle last December. And in between? Eh, he just happened to lead Galway to the All-Ireland U21 hurling summit last September.
Their 10-point victory over Dublin that day was a testament to sound management: Galway played like a team with a plan and stuck to it impressively.
It was also a tribute to the squad’s character, given how many of the players (and manager) had shipped a humiliating defeat to Tipp in the previous year’s U21 decider.
Given all the above, it is perhaps no surprise that eight of last year’s U21 team will start in Pearse Stadium tomorrow.
Galway’s recent history at senior level has been such a frustrating tale of under-achievement that a certain clearout was inevitable. Cunningham, predictably, was seen as the right man to instigate the overhaul.
Now for the government health warning. We’re not planning to make the same mistake as Alan Hansen all those years ago — and his infamous “you can’t win anything with kids” dismissal of Fergie’s Fledglings — but there are no guarantees either.
Specifically, with six teams in hurling’s new top-flight format, there is less scope for trial and error.
The Galway young guns have home advantage but they can’t yet match the invaluable experience garnered by Anthony Daly’s men over the past few seasons.
Dublin, for sure, are not at optimum strength and you may even argue that they won’t be until their ‘Cruciate Three’ — aka Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney and Tomás Brady — make it back to full fitness. Nor, tomorrow, will they have David O’Callaghan (recovering from pneumonia), Ross O’Carroll (broken finger) or the hamstrung Paul Schutte.
But Daly’s hand has been strengthened considerably by Peter Kelly’s return to full training after a recent knee injury niggle, and by Liam Rushe coming through this week’s Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final for UCD despite concern over his recently healed broken hand.
Kelly’s transformation from emergency full-back (replacing the stricken Brady) to All Star nominee was one of the big individual success stories of Dublin’s standout 2011.
This year promises to be more difficult if only because whatever element of surprise attached itself to Dublin is now long gone.
Chances are, too, they will hit a few more speed bumps on their spring journey — unlike last year when the aforementioned Galway defeat was their only league loss.
Still, while Dublin will have a couple of relatively new faces on Pearse Stadium patrol, there will be lots more in the Galway ranks.
That, and the loss of Joe Canning to a shoulder injury this week, could well tilt the balance in favour of the Blues.
ODDS: Galway 4/6, Draw 9/1, Dublin 6/4
– Frank Roche, Evening Herald