Sunday’s league semi-final will tell Galway manager Micheál Donoghue whether the fringe players he has persisted with throughout the spring are capable of making an impact come championship, according to former Galway forward Niall Healy.
After two successive summers where the make-up of Galway’s starting team was rarely tinkered with and where the county’s 2018 All-Ireland final team showed just one change in personnel from the side which climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand 12 months previously, Donoghue has cast the net far and wide in recent months to improve the depth of his panel.
In total, the Galway manager has used 34 players in the six games they have played so far, 31 of whom have started at least one league fixture.
The club commitments of Corofin’s Daithí Burke, St Thomas’ David Burke, and Conor Cooney and the Oranmore/Maree pair of Niall Burke and Gearóid McInerney, have seen lesser-known lights become first-team regulars.
Healy, part of the Galway set-up from 2005-15, has been impressed by those who have availed of this opportunity to stake their claim for a starting berth come championship Sean Loftus, who featured in seven of Galway’s championship games in 2018 (six as a sub), is the sole player to have started all six league outings and would appear to be the frontrunner to partner David Burke at midfield this summer given Johnny Coen has made just one appearance for the Tribesmen in the league.
Corner-back Jack Grealish has four starts under his belt, while Healy was full of praise for his old teammate Davy Glennon.
The latter, who has struggled to hold down a starting berth since first arriving on the scene in 2012, has been arguably their most industrious forward this spring and offers an alternative to the six man-mountains which management opted for in attack over the past two seasons.
“Davy might not be getting a lot of scores (he’s hit 1-4 this league), but he is winning a serious amount of frees in front of goal,” said Healy.
“The games I’ve seen, he has been fairly lively. If he was taking the frees he was winning, he’d probably be their top scorer. He’s a bit different to the other Galway forwards. He’s small, he’s lackey, and he’s quick.
“Micheál [Donoghue] definitely needs to bring in one or two fresh faces. If Johnny Glynn and Joseph Cooney (travelling) aren’t going to be around for some of the summer, he’s going to need to bring in new lads. He is not going to get by with 16 or 17 players. You saw against Clare last year, bringing lads off and bringing them back on again. That he was using the same players throughout last year’s championship probably took its toll at the end of the season.”
Healy added: “Sean Loftus has done fairly well. Sunday’s game against Waterford will be a massive test for the newer guys, the likes of Jack Grealish, Kevin Hussey, Loftus, and Davy Glennon. Micheál will know a lot more about the fringe players after Sunday.”
Galway reaching a second league final in three years, said Healy, is important for giving David Burke and Conor Cooney the opportunity to see game time in a maroon shirt before the Leinster round-robin commences on the second weekend of in May.
“Obviously, they’re gutted after the loss to Ballyhale, but I think the best thing for them would be to wire into it again with Galway and forget about last Sunday.
"Fintan Burke, who is a real talent, looks to have done his cruciate in that club final and he'll be a big loss to Galway.
“Waterford do have their injuries, but then Galway won’t have Conor Cooney, David Burke or Daithí Burke at Nowlan Park. That evens it out.
"He seems to really be enjoying his hurling these days. That can only be good for the summer ahead.
“In 2017, Galway won the league and went on from there to win the All-Ireland. Last year, they went out of the league with a whimper. It would be no harm at all if they get to the league final and it’s Limerick who are waiting for them.”