Time is short for Joyce's side Galway needing quick fix after Mayo mauling before Dubs come to town
SOMETIMES, when life is so grim, all you have left is gallows humour.
Pádraic Joyce joked on Sunday that Jim McGuinness may not answer next time he rings seeking his coaching acumen for a Galway session.
But Brian Talty has another suggested Ulster number for his fellow county man. “Maybe,” he ventures, “Joycer should pick the phone up to Mickey Harte.”
By a coincidental freak of the GAA calendar in this already outlandish year, Joyce now finds himself in precisely the same position he inflicted upon Harte in pre-lockdown spring.
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On February 23, Tyrone lost to Galway in Tuam Stadium by 19 points – a record margin of defeat for Harte in this, his 18th season. “I can’t ever remember a day like it,” admitted the seen-it-all manager.
Six days later they faced Dublin.
Fast-forward almost eight months. Last Sunday, Galway lost to Mayo in Tuam by 15 points. “Probably the most embarrassing day of my career,” their manager lamented.
And this coming Sunday, wouldn’t you know, Dublin head west for a Pearse Stadium rendezvous with a group of traumatised Tribesmen.
How can you hope to recover so quickly when you’ve just been filleted by your greatest foe? Especially when your next match is against Dublin?
But that brings us back to Tyrone. Mattie Donnelly was an injured bystander for their trauma in Tuam. “There will be no flogging at this stage with the games coming thick and fast,” he promised afterwards.
“It will be more showing the mental frame and obviously when Dublin is coming to town that takes care of itself, too. You can’t be feeling sorry for yourself for too long. The boys will be hurting a lot, but that will hopefully lead to a reaction for Dublin.”
The reaction duly came: on a horrible night in Omagh, Tyrone fought the elements and their own demons to beat the Dubs by three points.
But that was before the world changed utterly. Galway are 18 days out from a winter SFC opener against Sligo – and less than a month away from a potential Connacht final rematch with Mayo. Has Joyce enough time to correct the horror show?
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Hard to believe, but Galway haven’t been National League champions since 1981, when Brian Talty was manning the midfield skies. Theoretically, they can still win this year’s Division 1 title – but it’s no longer in their own gift and Kerry could have already claimed the spoils before Sunday’s throw-in at Salthill.
In truth, a bigger worry is whether Galway morale has been fatally wounded so close to championship.
Before last weekend’s resumption, they were being touted as dark horses for Sam; during that mesmerising first half from Mayo, such grandiose claims looked a complete folly.
It’s true that Mayo – from the young guns such as Oisín Mullin, Eoghan McLoughlin, Mark Moran and Tommy Conroy, to the older reliables like Paddy Durcan, Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor – have rarely if ever appeared so collectively in the zone.
But every such judgement has to be calibrated against the fact that Galway were, in Joyce’s typically candid assessment, “a mile off it. It was like men against boys all day”. The manager, to his credit, took responsibility for this. And, according to Talty, he can still turn it around.
“No better men than Joycer and (selector John) Divilly to get that up and running again,” he says. “But what they need to look for is a performance against Dublin. Win, lose or draw is not relevant really, to be honest, as regards championship.
“They’ll wake up (Monday) morning and think, ‘Agh!’ … they’ll be really down. Then Tuesday will come and they’ll be down a bit. And then you start coming back up again and say, ‘Right, we’ll give it a right shot now and see.’ That’s the mind of footballers: after Tuesday you’re back up and the next match is the important one.”
Moreover, as Talty points out, “you get a bad run in a game, it’s very hard to change it around”. Tyrone will certainly agree: for their meltdown against Galway they lost Kieran McGeary to a red card before half-time, then All-Star Cathal McShane to a season-ending ankle injury, and then Frank Burns to a second yellow.
Galway’s tale of woe predated throw-in with the absence of injured skipper Shane Walsh and their self-isolating Moycullen crew. Within 10 minutes they had lost Damien Comer (to a hamstring injury that threatens his involvement in a constricted season) and Johnny Duane.
Yet at least Tyrone could claim to have been vaguely competitive against Galway in February, trailing by just three points at the three-quarter mark before they imploded.
Galway were abject from the first bell, with glaring deficiencies from ’keeper Connor Gleeson all through every line. Less than a handful of players showed the required intensity.
“They all have work to do, and they all have work to do in a few days,” says Talty. The former Dublin selector was in Parnell Park on media duty for the Dubs’ four-point win over Meath and suggests that while Dublin were “a bit rusty”, any repeat Galway performance would leave them primed for a “right walloping” this weekend.
Talty spies one crumb of comfort: less loose talk of All-Irelands. “It probably takes that pressure off, because Galway had played so well in the earlier rounds of the league, we were all kind of saying it,” he admits. “Even watching the U-20s, there’s a huge amount of talent in Galway at the minute. So you’d be hopeful that might be just the kick in the pants they needed. Whether they didn’t expect Mayo to come with the young pacey guys … now they know about them. But they need a big response against Dublin.”
Just ask Mickey Harte.