Retaining a title is notoriously difficult, even for sporting giants writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. History shows us that you can multiply the odds significantly when it comes to a breakthrough team replicating their success in the following campaign.
Eight months after winning their All-Ireland in 2012, Donegal were described by Joe Brolly as “a footballing superbug”. Yet they were bounced out of the championship in emphatic fashion by Mayo just a few months later.
Last September, Clare gave an exhibition of hurling in the All-Ireland final replay that had pundits purring. Many predicted that Davy Fitzgerald’s men were changing the landscape of the game and were destined to dominate.This season, they were gone by early July.
So you look at Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie champions Galway, and you wonder. The outpouring of emotion that followed their success last year was a result of manic hunger. The legendary Therese Maher finally scaled the summit at the 17th attempt, having joined the squad a few months after the county had claimed its first title.
Maher’s crusade and the Galway drought were inextricably linked, being one and the same. Having lost five finals, finally getting over the line had a value no Sotheby’s auctioneer could quantify.
But did it have a price? Maher decided to end her stellar career on a high. But apart from her loss as a player and totem, would the desire to go to the well be the same? Would the appetite be sated?
That they failed to make the league semi-finals wasn’t that much of a concern but losing to both Wexford and Cork in the group stages of the championship, and the manner of the latter defeat, was. It also left them with a quarter-final against league finalists, Clare.
There were many suggestions that Tony Ward’s squad would succumb to the Bannerwomen. What they produced that day in the most extreme weather conditions, to chisel out the victory in extra time, suggested that they are ready and willing to go to the well.
“For both teams it was an all-merciful battle and the fact that we did come out of it the right side, we can look back and say that it was a great character test,” reflects Galway captain, Lorraine Ryan.
“It does show that we still have the hunger that might have been questioned going into it. So we’ll take the positives from that and hopefully that will drive us on another step for Sunday.
“I think (the hunger) is just as strong. We were questioned a few times, even though within the group ourselves we knew we wanted it as much. Definitely the hunger, the heart, the determination is all there. We just need to perform.
“With Wexford, we just fell short in the last few minutes. We got over Dublin and then the second half against Cork we fell apart alright.
“Going into the Clare game we knew it was going to be an awful battle. We took what we learned and thankfully we got through it.”
Another factor in the equation is that Galway weren’t tearing up trees in the early part of last year’s campaign either. It was really only when they got to the knockout stages that they started flowing. Certainly, had they not wanted it really badly, they would not have gotten through in a game that had to be stopped for 11 minutes, such was the inclemency of the weather in Limerick.
The challenges get more difficult as you progress though and blocking their way to a place in the final on September 14 is the Kilkenny team they defeated in last year’s decider.
The Noresiders are not going to be short on motivation as a result and appear to have moved on well, annexing the league title and earning a direct route to the last four via a 100% record in their group.
Galway will look to the same big players to head the resistance. Maher’s loss in this area is acknowledged but Ryan is a natural leader herself and there are plenty of others in the squad too she insists.
“We’re a very close bunch and I don’t think it really matters who’s captain within the panel. Even though Therese was a natural leader and we do miss her, there are so many leaders on this team that have been playing together for 10, 12 years.
“It’s different people on different days that will show leadership which a team needs. You need leaders on every line. It’s not about one or two anymore. It’s about 15, 20, 25. We’re thankful we have that.”
Liberty Insurance Senior semi-final Sunday, August 24th Galway v Kilkenny, The Gaelic Grounds, 4.00pm, Cathal Egan