Inside Track with John McIntyre
HOW good are Galway footballers? Well, one thing for sure, we should have a better handle on where they stand in the championship pecking order after colliding with Kerry in the opening round of the new Super 8s at Croke Park on Sunday.
Third favourites to lift the Sam Maguire Cup – the legacy of an unbeaten run to the Division One league final and regaining the Connacht title – Galway’s credentials undoubtedly face their most exacting test of 2018 against an in-form Kerry outfit which blew both Clare and Cork away in the Munster championship.
The Kingdom’s attack, containing the class of Paul Geaney, Sean O’Shea, James O’Donoghue and David Clifford, is going to take some policing by the Galway rearguard. They hit a staggering 32 points in dismantling the Banner and won pulling up (3-18 to 2-4) against the Rebels. David Moran is also in good form around midfield, although their backline is still a work in progress.
At first glance, Kerry’s hammering of Cork looked a major statement of intent by Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s team, but some revisionism of their superiority is now required after the Leesiders were also thrashed by Tyrone in the All-Ireland qualifiers at the weekend. The fight just seemed to be completely knocked out of Cork after their Munster final mauling.
Sunday’s clash is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final when Galway were too defensive for their own good. They were also a bit like that in the recent provincial decider against Roscommon only to open up on the resumption with Shane Walsh their chief inspiration. In gaining revenge for last year’s final defeat, the Tribesmen showed what they are capable when more attack-conscious.
Yet, it will be no surprise if Galway operate another holding operation – at least, early on – against Kerry. They can’t afford to fall too far behind early on and will be anxious to be still in the hunt after the opening 20 minutes. While there has been a big improvement in their overall displays in 2018 and they are also much more consistent as evidenced by losing just once so far (the league final against Dublin), a shoot-out against Kerry from the throw-in might just be too risky.
For all that, Galway have now assembled a potent forward division of their own, spearheaded by captain Damien Comer and Walsh. The movement and crisp lay-offs of Ian Burke, together with the pace of Eamonn Brannigan and Seán Kelly, add substance to that attack, while Tom Flynn’s high fetching around midfield against Roscommon represented a big return to form for the Athenry man.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.