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Galway Hurling: Forever At War With Itself

Galway Hurling: Forever At War With Itself
By Conor Neville
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There was one especially vicious inter-generational conflict that David McWilliams left out of his 2006 book 'The Generation Game', namely, the one that has been raging in Galway hurling for about 15 years now.

As its producers would doubtless acknowledge, Up for the Match is not intended as a forum for cutting edge analysis. One rarely gleans any serious insight beyond the fact that Eddie Keher believes hurling is a way of life in Kilkenny and Sylvie Linnane reckons that refs these days are blowing for everything.

But on the eve of last year's All-Ireland hurling final, it allowed us a glimpse at true yearning and frustration. Gerry McInerney and his wife were seated in the audience.

After the usual guffawing about old times and the re-telling of the old yarns (tell us about the boots, Gerry...), Gráinne asked the pair to get off the goddamned fence and give us their prediction for the match.

To their credit, they refused to break with the 140-year tradition of the Up for the Match programme and tip the opposition - had Gerry Mac said, 'to be honest Des, I can't see past Kilkenny', he would probably, and rightly, have been escorted from the studio.

Gerry's wife Ita said with great solemnity that, 'we need a win... for the kids'.

Gerry was a bit more self-centred about the whole thing. He couldn't afford not to be. He has seen too much suffering and strife down the years.

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'Never mind the kids, we need a victory for ourselves! Jaysus Chrisssssshhhtt!

In that moment - which, needless to say, raised a giant belly-laugh from every member of the generous Up for the Match audience - we saw the pain and frustration and impatience of a generation of Galway hurlers.

Rarely a fortnight goes by these days without an All-Ireland winner from the 1980s coming forward and telling a journalist that the current mob better win it this year or else. If for no reason than they're sick of having to turn up at 'Up For The Match' every few years.

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It's no secret that aged fellows rarely think well of the succeeding generation. But surely no crop of old-timers harbour greater reserves of contempt for their successors than the Galway hurlers of the 1980s.

This was most visible in Vincent Hogan's explosive interview with Brendan Lynskey, Noel Lane and Conor Hayes on the day of Galway's Leinster championship clash with Dublin five years ago.

The air of disdain with which they talk about these young punks simply burns off the page (to be fair, Lane was reasonably mild in his comments). Every article has the same theme. What in the name of God is wrong with them?

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The language was a touch intemperate. The word 'cowardly' - a bit of a 'no-no' in terms of the GAA lexicon - was deployed at one point.

Many supporters of rival counties expressed disbelief that ex-players would castigate current players on the day of a game.

Lynskey had another pop in these 'pages' the day after last year's All-Ireland hurling final.

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We're training since last January. It's all we hear that we had no worries in training. A man that can't train (Michael Fennelly), how come he was able to finish the fittest man on the field, the strongest man on the field? How come he looked like the guy who'd been training all year, and we looked like guys who'd never togged out before? Because it is all up in the head and that's where we have to get it... We capitulated. We surrendered.

Today, in the Irish Examiner, Galway great Pete Finnerty was in a kinder mood but still demanded that the players 'started walking the walk they’ve been talking about'.

This anger isn't just confined to ex-players by the way.

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This correspondent recalls being in a Dublin pub on a bank holiday Monday early in 2013 watching Galway play Tipperary in the League in Salthill.

St. Thomas's had won the All-Ireland club the day before, and an old boy from the Peterswell area wandered in to see how Galway were getting on. Things weren't going well. Tipp were winning handily. The old fella squinted at the screen for a few minutes, before walking out in advance of the final whistle, presumably to get the better of the non-existent traffic.

He only spent five minutes in the pub, but still managed to break the world record for utterances of the phrase 'ARRAGH! Galway are fuckin' ussshhhless!' In total, he used the phrase about 12 times in 5 minutes. Every Tipperary point, every Galway wide, every misplaced Galway pass was greeted with this cry. His joy from the previous day's club success didn't endure long.

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Oddly enough, in addition to ratcheting up the pressure on the players, in the next breath, they frequently express doubts about their ability to get the job done.

Galway is unusual in that a fair portion of their supporters tend to be both hugely demanding and deeply pessimistic, creating a uniquely difficult and pressured environment for a player to operate in.

But then surely such interventions, however harsh, have the effect of jolting the players out of their complacency, inspiring them to prove those old geezers wrong.

Don't they?

The day the Irish Indo article involving Lynskey, Hayes and Lane appeared, Galway delivered one of their worst championship performances of the past decade (and they've had some flops) losing 0-19 to 2-7 to the Dubs in Tullamore.

Not quite then. Maybe the soft cop is due a run-out.

Read more: In Defence Of Joe Canning

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