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big task King Henry needs to be ruthless to bring Galway underachievers back

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Galway's new hurling manager Henry Shefflin needs to make some big calls on team selection. Photo: Sportsfile

Galway's new hurling manager Henry Shefflin needs to make some big calls on team selection. Photo: Sportsfile

Galway's new hurling manager Henry Shefflin needs to make some big calls on team selection. Photo: Sportsfile

Welcome to Galway, Henry – we know you’ll love it. You did enough damage to us down here, in Croke Park, Nowlan Park and a lot more parks over the years that we feel you owe us. It’s payback time!

Seriously, though, we have the players to provide you with the means to make your first venture into inter-county management a big success. I have absolutely no doubt that there’s an All-Ireland in the county, if the right talent is harnessed and focused.

Henry Shefflin’s appointment came as a big surprise, especially since the hot gossip had Davy Fitzgerald all but appointed. No one saw Henry on the horizon, which makes his arrival all the more intriguing.

It’s one of the most talked-about managerial appointments the GAA has seen, sparking interest well outside Galway. He will ignore that and get straight down to work.

There’s plenty to be done, too. He’s taking over at a time when Galway have slid down the rankings. It should not have happened and I would state with full conviction that if they get things right, they are best placed of all to challenge Limerick next year.

How can I say that after three seasons where they weren’t in the top three in Leinster (2019), blew a Leinster final (2020) and were embarrassingly poor against Dublin and Waterford this year?

I would question team selection, preparation and general attitude. Shefflin will be in total control of the first two and can heavily influence the third.

They’re actually linked. Every player needs to hold himself responsible, be hard on himself. You wonder if that was happening over the last few years.

If not, why not? Was it because there were a lot of comfort zones, with players believing (and understandably so, based on the selections) that even if they weren’t playing particularly well, their places were secure?

There was always going to be a loyalty to the 2017 All-Ireland winners, but it should not have lasted four years when the results showed change was necessary.

Limerick kicked on after winning the 2018 All-Ireland and feeling the pain of the 2019 semi-final setback, whereas Galway declined each year after 2017.

We hear about players taking ownership, leadership groups and all the other modern buzz phrases, but what does it actually mean?

Were all of Galway’s so-called leadership group even good enough to be on the team? Were their positions sacrosanct?

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I’m very much from the school of thought that believes management manages. That’s why they’re there.

And if they’re not strong enough to do it, get out. In any event, every player should be a leader – proving it by what he does, not what he says or what clique he’s part of.

It seemed to me that too many Galway players were very comfortable with themselves. Of course, they gave it their all, but did they accept responsibility for some awful performances?

I also had reservations about their physical readiness. At times, they looked stuck to the ground, especially against Dublin and Waterford (until the last quarter).

I’ve watched them in club games over recent weeks and many of the lads who looked so cumbersome in maroon were flying. Why the difference? Hurling requires pace and mobility – it wasn’t there for Galway this year.

Shefflin starts with a blank sheet. He knows the Galway players he has seen, but there are others he probably isn’t aware of. They’re not all playing for senior clubs either.

There are lads in the 22-25-year-old age group, who haven’t been involved. They need to get a chance, in tandem with the younger brigade coming in from the successful underage teams.

They have to be given a decent run to see what they can do. Sacrifice the league as part of the trial phase, because all that matters is next summer.

Galway simply cannot go back with essentially the same team as in recent years. If it failed then, why should it be any different in 2022, even with Shefflin’s new management style?

In the short term, I’d like to see him organise some trial games, involving players who either haven’t been on the panel yet and some who have spent most of their time on the bench without getting much game-time.

Trial games aren’t always reliable, but you still might spot something that makes it worthwhile working with a player who hasn’t been on the scene.

In marked contrast to his off-field demeanour, Shefflin was one of the coldest assassins in hurling during his unbelievable career. Hard as flint mentally. I hope he brings the same attitude to management.

Be ruthless. It’s what Galway need right now, not leadership groups with self-preservation agendas. And certainly not extended loyalty to the 2017 All-Ireland winners. That model has failed.

If Shefflin introduces a new one, based on his own instincts as the fearsome competitor he was, and rinses the panel from top to bottom, he’ll enjoy his time in Galway. So will the supporters.

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