Galway hurlers need supporting cast for the Joe Show

Shane Stapleton on a side that need to make that big step

Galway, hurling, Joe Canning

Galway's Joe Canning dejected after the game ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Failure is no longer an option for Galway.

Any team that can beat Tipp in the 2015 All-Ireland semi, establish a winning position in the final against Kilkenny, and in 2016 push the eventual champions all the way has the stuff to do it.

Yet Galway and frustration continue to make easy bedfellows.

Surely it’s about attitude for the Tribe. They need to win Leinster in 2017 because the Cats are no longer an all-consuming vortex, because Dublin’s panel has been so weakened unnecessarily, and Wexford may have peaked too soon.

Every time we admire what Galway have on paper, they spill Tipp-Ex on themselves. They crumple; they suffer from white-line fever.

Just like the Cork footballers in the 2010 final, you didn’t believe they could do it until you’d seen it. See Mayo, Waterford and, until last weekend, Sergio Garcia for similar cases of anticipatory anxiety.

Down the years, Galway have often drawn comparison with Arsenal. Beautiful flowing stuff but flaky too; as in, they’d let you down.

Now they’re more of a rugby team that engender the phrase Stand Up And Fight. It’s all about fronting up with this team. They’ve speed, power, but maybe they’re lacking guile.

How often do we see their athletic backs boom the ball upfield aimlessly in recent seasons? They turn games into a war of attrition, hoping to break the opposition rather than out-hurling them. That approach seems to trouble Tipperary, and yet plays into Kilkenny’s hands. There hasn’t been a horses-for-courses strategy.

Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan have all looked like the answer at one time or another, yet we’re still waiting for more. The Cooneys - Conor and Joseph - have promise to deliver on too.

So often, the individual and collective efforts of those five men - or whoever else wears a starting shirt in the forward line - have been used to explain Galway’s shortcomings. More importantly, to give a free pass in all weather to talisman Joe Canning.

When Tipp were rubbish in the mid-noughties, Eoin Kelly was still stringing skulls together; John Mullane stood out for a waning Waterford; in truth, many men rise up above the level of their team.

Canning will be 29 not long after this year’s All-Ireland. The injuries don’t slow down as you get older so his chances are narrowing with the passing of each winter.

Five weeks before Canning was born, the county won their most recent All-Ireland. To do so again, they’ll likely need to beat one or both of Tipp and Kilkenny.

Since the Leinster final win in 2012, Galway have met Kilkenny seven times and managed two draws, with both replays ending in comprehensive defeats. It’s been two defeats and a win against Tipp. Not a great return from ten definitive clashes.

Canning has had a mixed bag therein. He scored last-ditch equalisers in 2012 and 2014 against Brian Cody’s men, and set up the winner for Shane Moloney to end Eamon O’Shea’s reign. Genuinely, these were memorable moments.

Across all these games, he’s hit 2-17 from play — an average of 2.3 points per outing. A reasonable tally but Galway can expect more from their most talented ever forward.

They need him to stay present in second halves of big games such as the 2015 and 2016 Leinster finals, the 2015 All-Ireland, the 2014 Leinster semi replay when he had no shot from play at all, and the subsequent qualifier against Tipp.

His movement when positioned on the edge of the square is at times too static so perhaps he’s better suited to playing centre-forward, and taking advantage of any space left by a holding centre-back as Richie Hogan would.
Of course, he needs help that he can depend on every day, but the main man has to front up more than anyone.

Joe Brolly has been castigated for questioning the ranking of Colm Cooper among the greatest ever, pointing to an absence of a warrior spirit.

It’s just as populist to refer to Canning as a great, as it is with Cooper — and any dissection of this standing is deeply unpopular. At club level, Canning has done it all and in every way; there are no questions there.

Until he drags Galway to an All-Ireland, he will at this level be categorised as a beautiful stickman who was an excellent servant to his county. They’ve been close in his time, and we all know he has the raw materials to make it happen. That will also require other erratic players realising they can't always wait for the Joe Show, and Joe alone. Perhaps the return of Johnny Glynn is a turning point.

A trip to Limerick won't make or break anyone’s season at this stage. No more than beating a Waterford ‘B’ side was in the quarters. Seeing a bit of guile allied to athleticism would be an encouraging sign for the Tribe.

A team with Davy Burke's hurling, Daithi Burke’s ability to mind the square (Tom Devine notwithstanding), and the promise of Adrian Tuohy among others, means Micheal Donohue has a lot to work with.

You always looked for omens and, with Tipp favourites in the other semi-final, perhaps it’s not lost on the Tribe that three of their last five league finals were against the Premier.

Making an impact in a league final might be just the scene-setter they need for a big summer.