Loughnane to lift Tribesmen

December 26, 2006

Ger Loughnane
After contesting the All-Ireland hurling final in 2005, Galway never looked like reaching the same heights this year. But the appointment of former Clare boss Ger Loughnane as manager could be just the tonic they need to get back on track suggests team captain and goalkeeper Liam Donoghue. It's late September and one of the biggest hurling stories of the year has just unfolded - legendary Clare manager Ger Loughane is to take charge of the Galway in the coming season. And after another year of underachievement, it seems Galway hurling fans finally have something to get excited about. Loughnane transformed his native Clare from whipping boys into two-time All-Ireland champions in the 1990s and if he can help Galway to realise their massive potential, then Liam McCarthy Cup glory will surely follow. "This is what Galway hurling needs," enthuses goalkeeper Liam Donoghue, who has captained the Tribesmen for the past two years. "When Conor Hayes stepped down, 90-100 per cent of the players said they wanted the next manager to be from outside the county. The whole county is in favour of change, and the time is right for that now. "There's an air of excitement right now and we all know what Ger Loughnane can do. He will bring fresh ideas and will take whatever measures are required to bring an All-Ireland title back to Galway." The Clarinbridge netminder remains convinced that Galway can end their All-Ireland famine, despite this year's disappointing effort. After reaching the final in 2005, hopes were high that they could at least emulate that feat, but a nightmare first half display against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final ensured that a repeat of last year's stunning victory over the Cats was never going to happen. "We knew at the start of the year that if we were to win the All-Ireland, Kilkenny and Cork would be the teams to beat," Donoghue says. "Despite the fact that Thurles has never been a happy hunt ground for Galway teams, we gave ourselves every chance. But Kilkenny blitzed us in the first half and even though we rallied in the second half, the game was over as a contest at half-time. "It reminded me of two years ago when Kilkenny also inflicted a heavy defeat on us in Thurles. I can't put my finger on what happened to us, but I don't think we played with any sort of consistency this year. We never got into a winning groove. "Obviously we're anxious to put that disappointment behind us and we want to make amends next year. I've no doubt in my mind that we can win next year's All-Ireland - we haven't become a bad team overnight." For the first time since 2003, Galway failed to win either an All-Ireland under 21 or minor title in 2006. The under 21s' hopes of retaining their All-Ireland crown were ended by Kilkenny at the semi-final stage, while Tipperary put paid to the minor team's bid for a three-in-a-row of Irish Press Cups in a surprisingly one-sided final. Donoghue, who himself won All-Ireland minor and under 21 medals in 1992 and '93 respectively, accepts that Galway hasn't fulfilled its underage potential and says it is high time for the county to stand up and be counted at senior level. "We need these successful minors and under 21s to start coming through. These guys have to step up to the plate. "Galway has a reputation for producing small and fast players, but there are plenty of physically strong players in the county as well who are capable of performing at the highest level. "We have got to create a situation where every youngster in the county wants to play for Galway. But it requires huge commitment and if they're not 100 per cent committed, they shouldn't be there." A shock defeat to Antrim in the opening round of the National League set the tone for a hugely frustrating year. Galway also lost to Limerick but wins over Tipperary and Laois meant that a victory over Kilkenny in their final Division 1B match at Pearse Stadium would earn them a place in the knock-out stages. But it wasn't to be as the Cats emerged as convincing 1-16 to 0-10 winners. Galway gave as good as they got in the first half and the sides were level on 0-7 each at the interval. But after Niall Healy edged the home team in front just after the restart, Kilkenny moved up several gears and sealed victory with a late Willie O'Dwyer goal. The defeat consigned the Tribesmen to 11 weeks of inactivity and Donoghue admits that this wasn't an ideal way to prepare for the championship. "Not making the knock-out stages of the league was a disaster really," he says. "Because of the way the championship is structured, we need to be hurling for as long as possible in the league. Going out early is the last thing we wanted to do." When the All-Ireland qualifier draws were made, it was taken that Galway and Waterford would be the two teams to emerge from a group that also comprised Leinster lightweights Laois and Westmeath. The only question was: who would finish top and avoid either Kilkenny or Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final? Galway opened their championship campaign with a facile 7-18 to 2-13 victory over Laois at O'Moore Park. Alan Kerins helped himself to a personal tally of 4-2 as the Tribesmen demolished their hapless opponents. Three goals in the opening 20 minutes from Richie Murray (two) and Kerins helped the visitors to a 3-8 to 0-6 interval lead. It continued to be one-way traffic in the second half with Kerins adding three more majors and Damien Hayes also finding the net. The crunch match in the group was against Waterford in Walsh Park. Galway amassed another big score but still lost by 1-25 to 2-20 in a pulsating encounter. Paul Flynn's second half goal proved decisive and meant that the home side didn't have to pay the price for a staggering tally of 20 wides. Galway led by 0-14 to 0-13 at the short whistle thanks to Ger Farragher's late pointed free, but Waterford upped the ante on the restart to earn a deserved victory. Despite being reduced to 14 players, the visitors never gave up and goals from Damien Hayes and substitute Cathal Connolly pushed the Decies to the limit. The Tribesmen regrouped to hammer Westmeath by 24 points in their final outing in the qualifiers at Pearse Stadium, but Waterford's victory over Laois meant that they had to settle for the runners-up spot and would be pitted against one of the provincial winners in the All-Ireland quarter-final. And when they were paired with Kilkenny, Galway knew they would be facing a team hell-bent on avenging last year's defeat. The purists were licking their lips at the prospect of a repeat of last year's epic contest which the Westerners won by 5-18 to 4-18, but a dominant first half display by the Cats put paid to that. Goals from Aidan Fogarty and James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick helped the Leinster side to a 2-13 to 0-6 interval lead and they were 17 points to the good by the 11th minute of the second half. Galway then introduced Eugene Cloonan, David Tierney and Richie Murray, and the experienced trio made a big difference as the Tribesmen got to within five points, 2-22 to 3-14, of the Leinster champions at the finish. Donoghue acknowledges that the qualifier loss to Waterford was extremely costly and dealt a severe blow to Galway's chances of reaching their second successive All-Ireland final. "We needed to win that game to avoid Kilkenny or Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but it didn't happen for us. When you concede 1-25 in a game of hurling, you cannot expect to win. "We stood off Kilkenny in the first half and were never going to make up the deficit after that. It wasn't a good year and we have a lot of improving to do if we are to get back into an All-Ireland final next year." Conor Hayes announced his resignation after four years as manager in the wake of the Kilkenny defeat. Six candidates were nominated to succeed the Kiltormer man, namely outgoing selector Sean Silke, minor manager Mattie Murphy, Portumna coach Sean Treacy and Claremen Pat O'Connor, Davy Fitzgerald and Ger Loughnane. The players' favourite - Loughnane - made it clear that he would only accept the job on the condition that he wouldn't face a contest. But when it emerged that Sean Silke and Mattie Murphy were still in the race, he withdrew his name. However, the saga took another twist when the Galway hurling board persuaded Silke and Murphy to step aside, paving the way for the Fealke man to take over. And after reconsidering his position, Loughnane was officially unveiled as manager on September 26. It now remains to be seen if Galway will be the team to break the Kilkenny-Cork duopoly of recent years.

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