SOON the time for speculation and conjecture will be over. By Sunday evening, we will have some hard evidence of what kind of shape the Galway footballers and hurlers are really in. Local GAA supporters will be flocking to Tullamore and Castlebar with understandable hopes of seeing a championship double for the Tribesmen in high stakes encounters.
Most hype and interest will be focused on McHale Park on Sunday when Kevin Walsh’s progressive charges bid for a third championship victory on the trot over Mayo. Unfortunately, those results in 2016 and last year led us astray. By the end of those campaigns, Galway weren’t mapped, while luckless Mayo took Dublin down to the wire in successive All-Ireland finals.
With the Super Eights being introduced for the first time in 2018, avoiding the treacherous backdoor route is a priority which cranks up the pressure on Galway and Mayo. Summer clashes between these arch foes traditionally don’t need any extra spice, but it’s fair to say which ever team comes up short on Sunday has made reaching the championship mountain top much more difficult.
Strictly on this year’s form-lines so far, Galway appear in much the better shape. They had an outstanding league campaign, winning six matches and drawing with Dublin on their return to Division One. Also notable was their concession of only a solitary goal, late on against Monaghan, as new coach Paddy Tally’s fingerprints on the team’s heavily-staffed defensive alignment paid rich dividends. That unbeaten run set up a final meeting with the Dubs and though Galway lost (0-18 to 0-14), they stood up to the All-Ireland champions and must have taken a lot of positives from the team’s display.
In contrast to Galway’s disappointing championship exits against Tipperary and Kerry over the previous two years, their league final performance represented a huge improvement, typified by being tight at the back and counter-attacking with pace. Confidence levels have obviously risen and given the county’s tradition, Galway always have to be feared when they get momentum.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.