ANTHONY DALY: The Bob O’Keeffe Cup is not Galway’s Holy Grail but success is now demanded

Before the 2013 Leinster final, we were listening to a standard backing track in Dublin.

We had beaten Kilkenny the previous week after a replay but the general consensus was that Kilkenny were finished. Other commentators suggested we would struggle to come down from the high of having beaten them.

Galway hadn’t exactly burned it up that summer but they had been in the previous year’s All-Ireland final and were expected to retain their Leinster title in 2013.

Four years on, and Wexford almost find themselves in the exact same position, with a similar backing track; Kilkenny are supposedly finished; Wexford will struggle to replicate the emotion and high of their semi-final win against their nemesis; Galway are hot favourites to win Leinster again.

We used all that stuff to good effect in 2013 and there’s no better manager than Davy Fitz to rub damp sticks of opinion into an inferno of perceived slight and retribution.

In my mind, the win over Kilkenny would have counted for nothing if we hadn’t won that Leinster title but Fitzy is coming at this from a different angle. I was in my fifth year with Dublin by that stage. It was our third Leinster final in five years.

Davy, meanwhile, is only just in the door. Even if Wexford are beaten tomorrow by double figures, and are knocked out in an All-Ireland quarter-final, their season has already been a success. The momentum Davy generated will carry into next season, especially heading back into Division 1A.

The Bob O’Keeffe Cup was always our Holy Grail but Bob has only become a realistic target for Wexford over the last few months. On the other hand, the opportunity of a lifetime is in the lifetime of that opportunity.

There is no guarantee Wexford will get a better opportunity to win a Leinster title in the coming years. With the new round-robin system coming in next year, Wexford could have to go to Parnell Park and Salthill before they even square off with Kilkenny. And nobody will appreciate that reality more than Davy.

For Galway, this is a whole different reality. Success is demanded now, not expected. It’s almost a matter of crossing this hurdle and getting two steps closer to their ultimate Holy Grail.

Galway have shown something different about themselves this year but they need a win to confirm as much, especially when Wexford will provide them with a completely different challenge again; a real raw, rugged, Leinster championship type bite, something we haven’t even seen in Munster yet this summer, despite some of the quality of hurling played down south.

Galway will know what’s coming tactically, and they will have prepared accordingly. If Galway have a free man, with Wexford playing a sweeper, Micheál Donoghue will surely want Aidan Harte in that role. I’d even be encouraging Harte to get up the field and hurt Wexford as often as he can on the scoreboard.

There is a big difference between Croke Park and Wexford Park and Galway will have focused heavily on trying to spread the play as wide as possible. There is huge opportunity for Galway to stretch Wexford, and pose them challenges Kilkenny weren’t able to.

Galway appear to be a perfect amalgam of pace and skill and power and class. Joe Canning is playing better than ever.

They have settled on players in big, central positions, spots that gave them trouble in the past. They demolished the last four teams they’ve played in league and championship – Limerick, Tipperary, Dublin and Offaly.

Confidence has to be high but how much were they tested in any of those games either? Tomorrow, we will find out if Galway are justifiably 2-1 All-Ireland favourites.

Wexford will base their game on their strengths. They will set up defensively but the question they may be forced to answer is what do they do if Galway stretch ahead of them early on? Do they change it up and attack the game more? Do they have the firepower to match Galway in a shootout?

Wexford do have plenty of shooters. Lee Chin ran the Kilkenny game but the point he scored from play showed what he is capable of.

Conor McDonald only scored one point from play but he worked extremely hard. Jack Guiney played well, making some big plays. Paul Morris hit three from play that evening but Wexford had a good spread of scores elsewhere.

They might not have the same firepower as Galway but Wexford’s focus will be on making this into a dogfight, and they will trust themselves in that kind of a battle.

I had a great chat with renowned sports psychologist Liam Moggan the other day. Liam would have worked with me with Clare and Dublin back in the day. He worked with Wexford over the past few years under Liam Dunne.

Interestingly, he told me he bumped into the squad at a service station en route to Clare for a training camp a couple of weeks ago. He said he never saw them looking so well, fresh and upbeat. What a massive mark of approval from a man that reads body language so so well, leading up to the biggest game in these guys’ lives.

Wexford could have done with a fit Liam Óg McGovern but what was really impressive the last day was the impact of the Wexford bench compared to the Kilkenny bench.

A lot of guys are playing with huge confidence because Fitzy has instilled that belief in all of the group. And if Wexford show up with that belief and confidence tomorrow, they will go a long way towards rattling Galway’s cage.

I expect Wexford to bring Galway down the stretch. If Galway’s resolve wavers any little bit, Wexford can kick on and beat them. If Galway show any of their old traits, where they fail to nail the deal, a shock could be on the cards.

The other possibility is that Galway could get an early run on Wexford and do a job on them. I see this as being a big win for Galway or a narrow victory for Wexford. In summation though, I still expect Galway to win. However they win is irrelevant. They just need to get the job done.

When I was at Limerick minor training on Monday evening, the seniors were training after us in the Gaelic Grounds. I met some of the players beforehand, just as we were going off the pitch, and they were coming on.

“Brilliant draw,” I said to Nickie Quaid. “Where else would you want to be on a Saturday night only down in Nowlan Park taking on Kilkenny?”

If you’re a Limerick player, you should really embrace this challenge and have an unmerciful cut at it. Limerick have nothing to lose. Where are Kilkenny? John Power is gone off the panel, clearly frustrated at being overlooked the last day for Richie Reid, the sub-goalkeeper.

Nobody knows if Kilkenny are any better personnel wise now. Will Mick Fennelly be back? There is definitely a sense of uncertainty around Kilkenny. That may make them even more dangerous but I still think the door is slightly open for Limerick.

The disappointment is that they don’t have a full hand to pick from. Kyle Hayes is in a race with time with a hamstring injury. Diarmuid Byrnes still hasn’t recovered.

Given how well the U21s played last week, John Kiely might even throw in a few more of them with next year in mind. I would have really fancied Limerick if this was on in the Gaelic Grounds, but Nowlan Park may be a step too far.

Elsewhere, I expect wins for Tipperary, Dublin and Waterford this evening. Mother of God, next weekend already looks to be shaping up for at least one unmerciful battle. And I’m not talking about the Munster final.

In the meantime, we’ve enough to keep us entertained this weekend. July is here. And you can already smell the anticipation and fervour in the air.


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