The Galway senior footballers are ‘back in the big time’ where they belong – in an All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park.
Galway reached the last eight after Saturday’s five-points qualifiers win over Tipperary in Tullamore – they will grace GAA headquarters for the first time in six years this Sunday (2pm).
As in 2008, Galway face the aristocrats of Gaelic football, Kerry, the second favourites after Dublin to win the Sam Maguire Cup this season.
The Kingdom are overwhelming favourites (2/7 versus 10/3) to reign supreme and advance to the semi-finals.
But Alan Mulholland’s young outfit showed enough of an attacking threat against the Premier County to suggest Galway will be no pushovers.
Reaching the quarter-finals was the target all year and now they’re in ‘bonus country’ . . . with the shackles off, and in the wide open spaces of Croke Park, who knows what Galway could achieve?
Certainly, the Galway forwards possess a lethal combination of class and speed, which badly exposed Tipperary’s defence last Saturday.
They racked-up 4-17, which is a serious score, with all five of those who played in attack – Shane Walsh, Paul Conroy, Michael Lundy, Michael Martin and Danny Cummins – proving their worth.
Galway showed they’re a confidence team: They struggled to settle at O’Connor Park and were a bit edgy but once midfielder Fiontán Ó Curraoin bagged the first of four goals in seven minutes, confidence levels soared, and the Tribesmen always appeared likely winners.
By the same token, Galway’s defensive unit leaked four goals in the second-half, which is quite worrying, even if the game was effectively over at that stage.
Though they stumbled over Clare, Kerry destroyed Cork in the Munster final. It finished 24 points to 12 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh with corner-forward James O’Donoghue from Killarney in devastating form raising 10 white flags.
Kerry have quality all over the park. Donnchadh Walsh, Bryan Sheehan and Declan O’Sullivan are top forwards; Anthony Maher and Johnny Buckley are a sturdy centre-field pairing; while experienced guys like Marc Ó Sé, Killian Young and Aidan O’Mahony are the bricks around which Kerry’s defensive wall is built.
This fixture six summers ago was remembered for the monsoon-type conditions and for the openness and quality of the attacking flair on show. Caltra’s Micahel Meehan scored 10 points but Kerry emerged on top, 1-21 to 1-16.
Only three Galway players survive from that campaign – Paul Conroy, Finian Hanley, and Gareth Bradshaw. Conroy was just 18, in his first season at senior, and this week recalled how being marked by the Kerry captain Tomás Ó Sé that day was a “wake up call”.
The St James clubman admits it’s difficult to reconcile that Galway has been out in the cold since.
“Yeah, it is hard to believe it’s been six years since we’ve been in Croke Park. It’s too long to be honest with you for a footballing county like Galway with the tradition and culture. It’s hard to believe it was 2008 but that’s the reality. That was my first year, and leaving Croke Park you’d be thinking it would be the same every year but unfortunately that’s not the way it has worked out,” he said.
For more and a full match preview see this week’s Connacht & City Tribunes