Sport

Danny Hughes: Galway are a force that can threaten the Dubs

Damien Comer was one of the Galway players targeted for persistent fouling by Dublin after the All-Ireland champions had been reduced to 14 men in last Sunday's Allianz Football League Division One final. It's proof that the Dubs are more than willing to engage in the dark arts of the game to get success Picture by Philip Walsh

DON'T ever let the facts get in the way of a good story. When it comes to sport, or indeed anything we have a passion about, we are rarely able to take an objective approach. Why?

Because we all have an agenda, whether we care to admit it or not.

There is a theory that this Dublin team are simply brilliant and don’t stoop to the levels of others with regards tactics – defensive or underhand.

Indeed, they have proved themselves to be a great team in the eight years of this decade.

They have become better year on year due in part to their ability to adapt to various tactics employed to destroy them.

Likewise, they have absorbed losses of personnel, whether enforced or not, and any team who can continue to win without Diarmuid Connolly, Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey is a team worthy of the title of greatness.

However, whether you care to admit it or not, Dublin are a team who are prepared to employ whatever method they see fit to win a game.

Some of their players are prepared to cross lines of gamesmanship and foul play.

They will play 15 men behind the ball at times. As for sweepers, they have probably the best in the game in Cian O’Sullivan, when he plays.

For sure, they beat Galway last Sunday fairly in what was a brilliant advertisement for any game, never mind the fact that it was ‘only’ a League final.

But Galway will rue some dodgy refereeing decisions at crucial times in the game.

Yes, Dublin played with 14 men for long periods, but I don’t think there is any doubt that this was an inevitability given the persistent fouling on Galway’s Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Gareth Bradshaw.

Galway will have gained so much from the game.

For a start, they were very competitive throughout and can look back at key moments and perhaps take solace from the fact it was a game they could have won.

Defensively, Galway reduced Dublin to a couple of goal chances and, given the Dubs’ forward line, I count that as a big success.

Offensively, from a Galway perspective this was not the dour encounter foretold in some quarters since the League started in January.

The general attitude southern media and pundits hold toward ‘Northern’ teams, in particular any individual from Tyrone, never really surprises me.

Granted, the anti-Ulster brigade have been gushing in their praise of the great Tyrone team of the last decade – but it was always done with a hint of begrudgery.

When Galway decided to employ the services of Paddy Tally, suddenly defending properly was a crime. It was, as one pundit called it, ‘ugly’.

While the Cavan v Roscommon game was exciting to watch, it played out like a minor game in comparison to the Galway-Dublin match.

The basics of defending were abandoned by both sides. Defending may not be as easy on the eye as scoring from 40 yards, but it is a harder skill to master.

These days you rarely see the one-on-one near-hand tackle being employed compared to the doubling and tripling up on forwards by players filtering into defensive formation.

Apparent in what I have seen of Galway this year, in particular in the League final, was their ability to defend effectively, skilfully and get the balance right between defending and attacking.

It was a blueprint devised in Dublin when they won their first All-Ireland in 16 years in 2011, after a series of naive and deflating defeats to various opposition.

It was rigid, structured and based very much on the collective.

After a few years, the confidence one will gain from success will naturally manifest itself in a more expressive style of play, something Dublin are living evidence of.

Galway are a work in progress.

They provide a serious threat to the equilibrium of things in Connacht.

Mayo have been the most serious contenders to Dublin’s dominance in recent times.

They too employed the services of a ‘Northern’ expert in Tony McEntee.

But given the introduction of the ‘Super Eights’, it has become financially important for a county to secure their place within this mini-championship.

With three inter-county matches guaranteed the ‘Super Eights’ is the GAA’s answer to soccer’s Champions League.

It will be worth a considerable windfall to county boards, with home and away matches.

Given Galway’s League form, I am very confident they will make the ‘Super Eights’.

Even if Galway don’t win a Connacht title, with Tally’s involvement and experience, I see them as real contenders for the All-Ireland.

Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and most likely Tyrone will also be in the last eight and with Galway and possibly Monaghan and Donegal, it makes the task of qualifying for that stage a difficult one.

Based on probability and history, teams in Division Three and Four are unlikely to see qualifying for the last eight as a real prospect.

You see where I am going.

Whether you want to accept it or not, inter-county football is now as much of a business as it is a sport.

The successful teams will be able to plan for participation in the ‘Super Eights’ and everything from underage investment to commercial sponsorship will flow, while those lacking in both foresight and indeed strategic plan will retain the status quo and continue on life support.

As an ambitious Down ex-player, supporter and lover of our county, it still rankles with me that we had Paddy Tally and lost him and indeed had the opportunity to create something unique with Tony McEntee and didn’t.

I have banged that drum for long enough.

And while it is time to move on, albeit in Division Three, Down (and Derry) really need to take a good look at themselves in light of progress teams such as Cavan, Galway and Roscommon have made in recent times.

They need the services of the best people and, a bit like business, you get what you pay for.

It’s as simple as that.

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