BACK IN MAY, Kevin Walsh admitted he would step aside as Galway boss once things started to go “downhill.”
Kevin Walsh chats with Shane Walsh on the field before the Mayo game.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
The two-time All-Ireland winning midfielder led the Tribesmen to two Connacht titles during his five-year reign, but their 2019 campaign ended in disappointing fashion with a round 4 qualifier defeat to Mayo on Saturday night.
Following their run to the last four of the All-Ireland series last summer where they defeated Kerry along the way, this season hasn’t gone as planned for the Tribesmen.
In the cold light of day, a provincial final loss to Roscommon was compounded by their failure to reach the Super 8s. It’s hard to argue against the fact that Galway have declined since last year’s heroics.
Walsh wasn’t helped by an extensive injury list that robbed them of several key players. He admitted in June it was the worst injury crisis he’s ever known as a manager.
His failure to settle on a number one goalkeeper this season and the decision to drop Sean Andy O Ceallaigh for a season-defining game against Mayo, only to introduce him during the first half, were significant errors.
Walsh’s defensive tactics were tolerated when results were going their way and Galway were making progress – which they clearly were after he took charge. They ended a long losing run against Mayo and became the dominant force in that rivalry once again.
He guided them to a Division 2 title and they’ve established themselves in the top flight, reaching the final in 2018.
However, after a championship campaign where they only enjoyed wins over London and Sligo, the Galway county board will come under pressure to make a change at the top.
There’s a wide-held view that the Tribesmen are not making full use of the attacking talents at their disposal. The fact that Corofin have won back-to-back All-Irelands with a free-wheeling attacking style of play only highlights the county team’s slow and laborious build-up play.
Will we ever see the best of Shane Walsh, Michael Daly, Ian Burke and Damien Comer under the current system?
When asked about Walsh’s future as Galway boss, full-forward Comer launched a staunch defence of his manager.
“That’s up to Kevin, it will be his decision,” he replied.
“Kevin has given us great benefits throughout his tenure and I think it’s actually pretty embarrassing the press he has got over the last few years and the criticism he has come under,” he continued.
“If you saw the way Galway football was when he came and where it is now, it is great credit to the man. I don’t think he is any way deserving of the harsh criticism that he has come under.
Comer added: “It’s probably lazy journalism in some ways but it’s very disrespectful to a man who had done so much for Galway football in the past and who still continues to do so much for Galway football from the sidelines and that goes unnoticed in the wider media and in the general public.
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Damien Comer takes on Brendan Harrison.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“We know as a group the work he has done and we are very proud of where we have come from and where we are going to go too.”
Walsh wouldn’t be drawn on his future, only remarking: “I’m not going to get into that. I want to make sure that this group goes out with their heads held high and not listen to crap outside.”
Galway were not as defensive in the Gaelic Grounds as they have been in previous games. Sure, they started the game with John Daly as a seventh defender, but they attempted to keep at least two men up front at all times.
After James Carr struck two early goals the Tribesmen went with a more orthodox formation, although they couldn’t get within less than three points of their neighbours.
Walsh conveyed his unhappiness that Galway have been type-cast as a defensive team.
“Unfortunately the type of crap that being put out by the guys on top who have plenty of table to sit behind have actually driven an agenda,” he said.
“It’s a case of if there is space there we will do it (kick the ball long) and if there isn’t we won’t. It’s about ball retention. Some of the kicks didn’t come off but it was quite direct and Mayo allow you do that.
“You look at missing a penalty, conceding a poor goal, hitting the post, missing one or two frees that game was there for winning and a few awful decisions that put us on the back foot as well.
“You know, referees are under serious pressure but agendas being driven by the top it probably puts pressure on them to make those decisions.
“I know we got two black cards in the end probably trying to rescue the game, maybe a bit of frustration with all the refereeing decisions beforehand and that happens.”
For Comer, it was a difficult end to the most frustrating of seasons. The Annaghdown man missed Galway’s entire season with a broken ankle, making his first appearance as a half-time substitute in Limerick.
He posed a threat and set-up Ian Burke’s goalscoring chance that drew a penalty, but at that stage Mayo were able to filter bodies back and crowd out the bulky full-forward.
“Disappointing to work so hard to get back (after his injury) at this stage and get a few minutes under your belt and then to be out of the championship,” he reflected.
“That is a hard one to take but look this season has been disappointing from a personal level but the lads have battled well through in the league and the championship. It’s a hard one to swallow.”
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