For a while, it appeared that 2016 would be chalked down as an unambigously positive year for Galway football. They unexpectedly regained the Connacht title for the first time in eight years, thereby ensuring that their barren era dragged on no longer than the previous barren era of the late 80s and early 90s.
Pessimists were just beginning to contemplate the possibility that Galway, for the first time in their history, would go an entire decade without winning a provincial title.
Unfortunately, the manner of the defeat to Tipperary was such that seemed to undo the progress of the mid-summer . Any air of goodwill or buoyancy surrounding Galway football was trampled upon.
Now, Padraic Joyce is sounding an alarm about the health of Galway football at a time when rugby is experiencing a massive surge of popularity in Galway city.
Connacht rugby used to attract very little support. They were usually the whipping boys in the interpros and played their games on cold winter afternoons in front of tiny crowds. It was dwarfed in popularity by Gaelic Games and was easily outstripped in the city by soccer and Galway United. In 2003, the IRFU made a serious attempt to disband the province. This move was opposed by almost sectors in Galway, with revered GAA figures like Joe Connolly joining marches and speaking at rallies in furious opposition to the measure.
Now all has changed.
Joyce wrote about the issue in a blog on the AIB GAA website.
The conveyor belt within Galway is slowing down and that’s a point I want to build on. First off, you have to look at what’s happening in the county. The big one is this: Connacht rugby. Galway city always had a heavy soccer presence but now on a Saturday night in Galway when there’s a Pro12 or Champions Cup game, there’s a buzz about the place.
Connacht rugby flags are hanging everywhere all over the city and all of the businesses want to be seen to be supporting it. It’s the in-thing in the city, and has been for the past few years now. I am a Connacht fan and have huge admiration and respect for what they have done as an organisation, especially when you think back to when there was talk of the province not getting the backing it needed.
Joyce was careful to stress that he's a rugby fan - indeed, back before Connacht rugby transcended such things, he participated in a video urging people to support the team.
And he insisted that he's not opposed to the Rugby World Cup coming. But he said that it's imperative that Galway football has its house in order if and when the Rugby World Cup does arrive.
So while it would be great to the see the Rugby World Cup coming, I’m worried about a legacy of damage to the GAA here. Imagine if the All Blacks were to come to Galway. How many youngsters would be swayed into playing the oval ball game?... If the GAA, and in particular Galway GAA, had their player developments in order, this wouldn’t be much of a problem.
He then outlined the decline of Galway football at Hogan Cup level, pointing out that two Sligo schools contested the Connacht school's final this year, a competition traditionally dominated by St. Jarlath's in Tuam. He also said a raft of clubs in North Galway are no longer producing players of county standard.
The success of Connacht rugby is being noted by Galway GAA. The growth of rugby in the west recently intruded on the debate on home games for the Galway hurlers in the Leinster championship.
Jarlath Cloonan, Galway PRO and former inter-county hurling manager (1992-95), said that Galway GAA risked losing out to Connacht rugby if they didn't get more top level matches in the city.
Connacht were told to disband 12 or 13 years ago, stood their ground and battled to be what they are today. A rugby match in Galway city is a huge event but in hurling we never get a serious championship game in Pearse Stadium. We need it.