Galway footballers and hurlers step up preparations for championship debuts

Galway's Eamonn Brannigan who faces a race to be fit in time for the big Mayo championship clash on Sunday week.
Galway's Eamonn Brannigan who faces a race to be fit in time for the big Mayo championship clash on Sunday week.

THE countdown to Championship continues for Galway’s flagship GAA teams, who are intensifying preparations for their provincial campaigns which get underway next weekend.

The reigning All-Ireland and Leinster senior hurling champions are keeping a low-profile ahead of the defence of their titles which begins with an under-the-radar away clash with Offaly on Saturday week.

It is the first of four round-robin matches for Micheál Donoghue’s men in the newly formatted race for the Bob O’Keefe Cup, which will include two ‘home’ games for Galway, and two away. There’s nothing low-key about the footballers’ opener, however.

The newly revamped senior football championship, through the introduction of the ‘Super 8’, means the Connacht quarter-final between Galway and Mayo on Sunday week (May 13) takes on an even greater importance.

The winners take a giant leap closer to the provincial decider, and to qualifying automatically for the ‘Super 8’. The losers must go through the backdoor, which has become even more circuitous with the introduction of round-robin qualifier games (two groups of four teams to each play three matches) to replace the All-Ireland quarter finals.

What makes it an even greater high-stakes encounter for Galway, the league finalists, and Mayo, the 2017 All-Ireland runners-up, is that they could end up meeting Ulster heavyweights (the losers of Donegal v Cavan or Tyrone v Monaghan) in the first round of the qualifiers.

Galway have beaten Mayo in the past two championship campaigns, and earlier this year in the National and FBD Leagues, but team boss Kevin Walsh agreed this is the biggest match between the sides in quite some time.

“I’m sure it has been talked up and probably one of the reasons is that we’re both in Division 1 for the first time for a long time so that’s probably enough in itself to say that it’s a big game.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.