Sunday, July 10, 2005

Why Galway Can Win the All-Ireland

When the RTÉ coverage of the Connacht Final started at two o'clock, Joe Brolly and Colm O'Rourke were not physically holding their noses at the prospect of the Connacht Final from their outside broadcast unit in Cork, but they might as well have been. It was clear that the Stadler and Waldorf of RTÉ's "match analysis team" found the very idea of the Connacht Final a little below the salt, a little bit the child of a lesser God.

Well, screw 'em. Galway have as good a chance as anyone left in it to rise Sam in September, and better than most. Because they come from the West, they will not be rated, and that will be their greatest strength. It will be a simple case of history repeating.

It's fashionable for the Dublin media to sneer at we hicks having a pop at the Dublin media, but one vignette makes it clear just how seriously those inside the Pale take those outside. As Mayo's doom was being writ large by the moving maroon finger, RTÉ commentator Darragh Maloney kept harping on about how John Maughan has never lost a Provincial Final as manager. Maybe you can mail An Spailpín Fánach if I'm wrong, but didn't Maughan lose the Connacht Final against Galway in Salthill in 2003? Two years ago and Darragh's research didn't go back that far? Not the most dazzling of research performances, Dazza.

When you're set in the Dublin media you get in the habit of spelling Westerner as g-o-b-s-h-i-t-e. It's that simple. Because you're from the West, you are inferior. Because the Connacht Final in the Pearse Stadium frying pan was poor, Colm and Joe have written off Galway's chances. Last year's Munster Final was every bit as bad between Kerry and Limerick, but I don't remember the chaps having a pop at football in Kerry. And just as well, as it turned out.

The other thing that doesn't come up on the Pale pundits' radar is that Galway are not a Connacht team once they escape Connacht. Games in Connacht can sink to the lowest common denominator, local rivalries being what they are, but once they see the green acres of Croker, Galway become men inspired. It suits them, in a way the big time doesn't suit Mayo or Roscommon. Mayo or Roscommon are always tipping the cap, while Galway walk the walk and talk the talk.

Galway have operated a poor mouth strategy all during this campaign, begging not to be hit with the child in their arms - or the children at 2, 3, 8, 9 and 13 in their arms, to be specific. Well, the children became men under the Salthill sun, and now the world stands at their feet.

Punditry doesn't register that, of course. Joe Brolly remarked that when it took Galway two games to get past Roscommon in the Connacht Final of 1998, the Derry boys were laughing at Galway, thinking that Derry were in a for a stroll in Croker. They were mistaken, as they would have known had they rewound the tape to May of '98, when Mayo and Galway played one of the greatest games of the 'nineties. But, because it was played in Connacht, it didn't make the national richter scale.

Screw 'em. This isn't the first poor Connacht Final Galway have won - they beat Mayo in Castlebar in 1987 by eight points to seven, and they beat Mayo in Tuam in 1995 in a game that wasn't as awful but was nowhere near good. And what happened? The team of '95, in Croker for the first time in eight years, an unheard off slump for Galway, wired it up to Peter Canavan and Tyrone, while the 1987 team, still bearing the scars of the 1983 All-Ireland Final, took Cork to a replay - the same Cork that are now held up as the last team to win back-to-back All-Irelands.

All good Galwegians will be only too delighted to hear their dismissal by O'Rourke and Brolly, as they know that results count more than chat. If you are a betting man or woman, direct your prayers to Galway getting Dublin in the quarter-final. There is no way our metropolitan friends will consider even the possibility of losing to fuggin' mulchies, and as such Galway will be an attractive price for the upset. And upset they will - they might not go all the way to September, but anyone who underestimates Galway does so at their very great peril.