It’s Race Week, and both the Galway senior football and hurling teams – as well as the minors in both codes – are still standing in their respective championships . . . success of sorts.
The Galway footballers will hope to prolong their summer into August and emulate the hurlers’ impressive quarter-final win over Cork in Thurles last Sunday, when they take on Donegal in round 4B of the All-Ireland Qualifiers at Croke Park on Saturday (6pm).
A quarter-final spot against Monaghan awaits Galway if they are successful – it would be a fourth championship meeting with a northern team this season. But if Sligo do the improbable and overcome Tyrone in the earlier match at Croke Park on Saturday, as well, then they would play Monaghan, and Galway would face Mayo for the second time in this campaign.
Like the horses round Ballybrit this week, Galway must face the hurdle in front of them before worrying about the next flight and in Donegal – the 2012 All-Ireland winners and last year’s runners-up – they face a formidable challenge.
Since the sides last met in championship, in 2009 in Sligo in round four of the Qualifiers, their fortunes have diverged considerably.
Donegal reinvented the game, with a blanket defensive system under Jim McGuinness that helped them enjoy unprecedented success, including three Ulster titles, and an All-Ireland in 2012.
Last year, Donegal did what most teams couldn’t – they beat Dublin at Croke Park in the championship, only to falter against Kerry in the final, having done the hard part in the semi-final.
While that defeat, and their loss in the Ulster final this season in which they kicked over a dozen wides, has wiped away some of the mystique that had built up around Donegal, they are still formidable opponents with realistic hopes of being contenders in September.
Since that 2009 one-point loss in Markievicz Park, Donegal evolved to win trophies and Galway got left behind a bit. The Tribesmen have won nothing; and went on a managerial merry-go-round (Liam Sammon was the fall-guy in 2009, Joe Kernan took the hit the following year and Tomás Ó Flatharta the year after) before some semblance of stability was restored under Alan Mulholland, a foundation that has been built on by the current management.
Based on league and recent championship form, Donegal are rightly favourites to advance but Kevin Walsh’s men are not without hope.
In Shane Walsh, who is returning from injury, and Damien Comer, Galway possess the natural talent to unfurl the Donegal blanket, and the entire team will have garnered untold confidence from beating two defensive Ulster outfits, Armagh and Derry, since losing to Mayo in the provincial championship.
In attack, Galway’s perceived strength, hasn’t exactly set the world alight . . . against Derry, Galway almost played the entire first half without a score from play and when it did come it was a defender, Gareth Bradshaw who landed it.
Gary Sice had a big bearing on the outcome of the Derry match and Danny Cummins was lively but there is obvious scope for improvement upfront.
The Galway backs have been ‘in the dock’ in the court of public opinion since the Mayo loss but in fairness they have answered all questions asked of them against Derry and Armagh, although Donegal will be more testing.
Galway’s defence appears to have tightened up since it was badly exposed by Aidan O’Shea, in particular, in the Connacht semi-final . . . but look at how the Breaffy beast destroyed Sligo in the final and Galway shouldn’t be too disheartened.
In Michael Murphy, Donegal has an Aidan O’Shea style of a forward – big, strong imposing in the air yet mobile and well able to find the target – that can do damage but he looked tired in the Ulster final loss to Monaghan in Clones a fortnight ago.
Murphy wasn’t alone in that respect, and Donegal, overall, had a tired look about them when losing by a point to in the provincial final. Ulster is notoriously competitive though and Donegal can regroup and still have a final say in the direction of Sam Maguire this year.
Now is certainly the time to meet them – beaten provincial finalists, Westmeath and Cork, have already come a cropper in the Qualifier immediately following their Leinster and Munster exits.
Sligo look like going that way, too, against Tyrone in the preceding game on Saturday (4pm) if the bookies are to be believed and why can’t Galway consign Donegal to a similar fate? Four-time All-Star and defensive talisman, Karl Lacey, has been ruled out of Saturday with a knee injury, according to manager Rory Gallagher, and Donegal might just be vulnerable, although Galway will probably have to play out of their skins to topple them.
Corofin hit the goal trail again in crushing Monivea/Abbey
WHILE it goes without saying that everyone is hugely thankful that sporting action has resumed and we still appear on course to complete a season, it is such a pity for the time being that only a handful of supporters are allowed the privilege to watch a team of Corofin’s class in full flight as they look destined to create history on their march to an eighth senior title in a row.
On a glorious day for football last Sunday, Corofin dismantled Monivea/Abbey in emphatic fashion, playing an electric brand of football that repeatedly cut holes in their opponent’s defensive alignment. Seven goals last time out against Oughterard, there could have been more again in Tuam Stadium but for some uncharacteristically sloppy finishing to rapier-like first half moves that left Brian Mulry’s side exposed.
It didn’t help that Cillian McDaid, Monivea/Abbey’s star turn, was an absentee, or that St. Bernard’s Connacht Junior Cup quarter final was scheduled for the same time, but Monivea/Abbey should still take a small shred of comfort from the fact that they competed well at times, created 19 scoring chances, and never dropped their heads despite the lost cause.
With no Connacht or All-Ireland club championship to have to try and peak for later in the year, Corofin look poised to lay down a serious marker on how far ahead of the pack they really are. New faces like Matthew Cooley and replacement Colin Kelly, who confidently netted two second-half goals on his debut, are being given their chance, while Ronan Steede, Martin Farragher, Bernard Power, and Daithí Burke were not required on this occasion.
Throw in the fact that Kevin O’Brien chose to keep Kieran Molloy and Gary Sice in reserve until deep into the second half and you start to seriously question whether any side in the county will be able to lay a glove on them this term. Ian Burke is motoring along nicely, Micheál Lundy appears revived back in a more attacking role, while veterans like Ciarán McGrath are haring around the pitch as if they have a point to prove.
Monivea/Abbey were lively all over the pitch early on and actually created one more scoring opportunity in the opening twelve minutes (5-4) but were unfortunately wasteful when it mattered and somehow found themselves trailing by 1-2 to 0-1.
Corofin’s movement and accuracy were already sublime, with Lundy, Burke, and Cooley lining up in an I formation down the middle of the attack and Darragh Silke offering himself as a highly effective link man in transition. Jason Leonard and Dylan Canney provided width when needed while the defensive Dylan’s, Wall and McHugh, tore forward when the chances arose.
Ian Burke’s sharp turn on eight minutes left Caelom Mulry in his wake, but when a goal looked likely Burke drove just over the bar. Three minutes later the dam broke when Lundy curled a pass into Cooley in space, and he picked out McHugh on the burst who slotted to the net at his ease.
A Brian Moran free registered Monivea/Abbey’s first score shortly after, but the die had already been cast. Jason Leonard drove over a ’45 after Burke had been denied by some last gasp defending before Canney clipped over a classy score where Lundy and Burke were involved again.
Extended report will appear in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Galway minor footballers stun Kerry in brilliant win
NOT many minor teams would have coped with the adversity and setbacks which stalked Galway’s championship summer, or much less end up looking forward to an All-Ireland final appearance in over a fortnight’s time.
Donal Ó Fatharta’s latest batch of minor footballers have had their mettle well and truly tested over the past couple of months, notably when falling twice in the provincial title race and also having to overcome a numerical disadvantage in a key match against a quality Sligo outfit.
The fact that Galway came through all those difficulties to contest last Sunday’s absorbing All-Ireland semi-final was a tribute to the squad’s character and resolve. Quite simply, this is a group of players wearing maroon jerseys who don’t know when to give up.
Having comfortably dispensed with Leinster champions Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final – Galway teams at all levels seem to have the Indian sign over the Lilywhites – they had clearly parked a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Mayo in the Connacht decider. It meant they headed to GAA headquarters in good fettle and no doubts about their bottle.
In the opposition corner, however, was a Kerry team trying to maintain the county’s push for an unprecedented sixth consecutive All-Ireland minor title. The Kingdom were also unbeaten in 34 matches at this level and were strong favourites to carry the day.
But the Galway players were both undaunted and ready for the challenge. They rose to the occasion in magnificent style and, pretty soon, it was evident that this was going to be no walk in the park for the highly-rated Kerry boys.
Galway thrived in the open spaces of Croke Park in producing their most accomplished display of the campaign.
Read full match coverage in Tribune Sport.
Corofin resume quest for seven-in-a-row
DUBLIN’S footballers may be going for the five-in-a-row, but Jim Gavin’s all-conquering charges would struggle to hold a candle to the team which continues to dominate Galway club football.
Corofin have had the odd close shave – notably last year’s drawn county final against Mountbellew/Moylough – but their shadow continues to tower over the Galway championship.
Kevin O’Brien’s troops are on the trail of a seventh county title on the trot in 2019 – a feat which would equal the achievements of St Grellan’s, Ballinasloe (1913 to ‘19) and Tuam Stars (1954 to ’60).
Corofin will also be aiming to stay on track for a record-breaking third consecutive All-Ireland title when resuming their championship campaign with a clash against Annaghdown at Tuam Stadium on Friday evening (7.30pm).
There are nine senior group ties down for this decision this weekend – two go ahead on Friday evening, with the rest taking place on Saturday, scheduling influenced by the Galway minors’ All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry at Croke Park on Sunday.
See full match previews in this week’s Connacht Tribune Sport.