New format offers Galway fresh hope

MORE than a decade after watching twin brother Michael establish himself on the Galway hurling team, Liam Donoghue is all the more conscious of making the most of his time at the top level.

He is captain of the side which faces into the first of three games in the All-Ireland SHC qualifier against Laois this evening. And, he admits that the new format offers the westerners a much more realistic chance of being able to challenge for honours.

While Michael was competing for a wing-back position after having established his reputation with the Galway U21s, Liam had to be content with stints on the bench.

He was involved for two seasons under the management of Noel Lane, a year with Cyril Farrell and another period with Mattie Murphy.

But, with Richie Burke, Pat Costello and Michael Crimmins the preferred choices for the goal-keeping position, he had to wait until Conor Hayes became manager before making the breakthrough.

Winning the county final for the first time in 2001 (when current Offaly boss John McIntyre was the coach) - and going all the way to the All-Ireland final - helped to push him to the forefront. "It was a fantastic occasion for Clarinbridge and I had a good year, which put me into the frame for the county team,' he explained.

Few teams have under-achieved as much as Galway over the past 20 years. Runners-up to Tipperary in the 2001 All-Ireland final, they made little headway over the next two years. Last season, however, there was the promise of a better showing in the championship when they impressed on the way to winning another league title. Then they met a Kilkenny side on the rebound from that chastening defeat at the hands of Wexford in the Leinster semi-final. "Winning the league probably created a false sense of security. We thought we were going a bit better than we actually were and around the county there was a huge expectation," said Donoghue.

"Then we drew Kilkenny after they had been beaten in the Leinster semi-final. On the day they were awesome. I suppose the format didn't suit Galway.

"One game against Down before we played them wasn't ideal preparation. We're just delighted with the new system. We're really looking forward to it."

Form in this year's league wasn't over-impressive, he agrees, with the performances against Tipperary and Laois causes of annoyance.

"The good thing about the competition this year was that we blooded a good few new players - something like 28 were used. We knew at the start of the year that these players were going to have to come in and get games.

"Are we stronger than last year? I think we are; the younger players who came in under Conor have a couple of years' experience now. And, with the new system we are guaranteed three games," he added.

But they will be taking it one step at a time, beginning with tomorrow's hosts: "They made it hard enough for us in the league in Portlaoise. And the year before they beat us by 11 points down there.

"So, it's not a happy hunting ground for us. We will treat Laois the very same way as we would treat Cork or Kilkenny. And Limerick will be no soft touch either."

Laois v Galway, Portlaoise, 7pm

LAOIS: P Mullaney, B Campion, P Cuddy, M McEvoy, J Fitzpatrick, P Mahon, S Dwyer, J Young, J Walsh, C Cloonan, J Rowney, C Healy, T Fitzgerald, L Tynan, D Culleton.

GALWAY: L O'Donoghue, D Joyce, S Kavanagh, C Coen, G Mahon, D Hardiman, O Canning, D Collins, T Regan, R Murray, D Forde, D Tierney, D Hayes, K Hayes, G Farragher.

Referee: M Wadding (Waterford).

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