A defining year ahead for Walsh and Galway’s seasoned players

Galway football manager Kevin Walsh who faces into a defining season in 2018.
Galway football manager Kevin Walsh who faces into a defining season in 2018.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

WHEN Galway footballers overcame Mayo for the second year running in the Connacht championship at Pearse Stadium last June, you’d have taken some convincing at the time that the Tribesmen would end up with not a single All-Star nomination, while their arch provincial rivals would be honoured with a dozen.

Notwithstanding the fact that Galway’s task was made less complicated by the dismissal of Keith Higgins for an off-the-ball incident in that game, the rival teams’ widely contrasting fortunes in relation to All Stars nominations accurately reflects how much Kevin Walsh’s charges subsequently flattered to deceive in the championship.

Galway returned to Salthill the following month strong favourites to take care of a youthful Roscommon team which had lost their Division One status in the league, but they produced a laboured effort in falling to a heavy nine-point defeat to hungrier foes who had crucial goals from Cian Connolly and Brian Stack in capturing the county’s first Connacht title since 2010.

It was a defeat which stunned Galway’s football fraternity, especially after winning the Division Two league title, and beating Mayo. Supporters were understandably deflated and there was little confidence behind the team ahead of the qualifiers. To the credit of Gary O’Donnell and his colleagues, they picked themselves up to inflict a thrashing (4-17 to 0-14) on Donegal in Markievicz Park last July.

Though their opponents finished with 13-man, after suffering two black cards, including one to Donegal’s talisman, Michael Murphy, there was an energy and ambition about Galway’s display which had been lacking against Roscommon. Ian Burke justified his call up to the attack on an evening Johnny Heaney finished with two goals to his credit.

Having got back on the horse, Galway had no excuses for not driving on and carrying the fight to Kerry in the subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final. The Tribesmen may not have won at Croke Park since 2001, but this was an opportunity to seriously test a Kingdom outfit which had some questions of their own to answer.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.