Unless Mayo, Roscommon or Sligo are visiting for a Connacht championship fixture at the height of summer, such a swell of GAA goers is rarely seen filing through Pearse Stadium’s gates. We’d make a hurling comparison but the hurling championship doesn’t stray west anymore. And probably won’t for a while yet to come. Hence, the importance of the second of tomorrow’s games – the meeting of Waterford and Galway in the hurling league quarter-final.
Board top-brass, long before their motion went to Congress earlier this year seeking full integration into a single provincial structure, were harping on about the urgent need for more high profile games in the city.
Their fear – and a justified one at that – is the Connacht rugby team has been winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the Galway sporting public, particularly in the city, in the absence of big GAA clashes.
Indeed, this league quarter-final is the first knockout hurling fixture to visit Pearse Stadium since Clare were hammered in a qualifier in July of 2011.
Mind you, that the game was given the 4pm slot is not to suggest it carries any more importance than the Division 2 football fixture involving Kevin Walsh’s Tribesmen and an already promoted Kildare which precedes it.
If anything, there’s more at stake in the football.
In 2011, the county’s footballers lost their seat at the league’s top table. An injury-time Johnny Doyle penalty at Salthill on the final weekend of action the following spring saw the Lilywhites promoted at Galway’s expense.
That game ended all square and just as a point was sufficient for Kildare on that occasion, a draw will suffice for Walsh’s charges here.
And they’re sure to draw some comfort from the stat showing it was 1985 when last Galway lost a home league fixture to Kildare.
The board have a particular interest in this one, purely from a financial viewpoint.
With the annual debt repayment on the derelict Mountain South site to significantly increase from 2018 onwards, it would be a help if Kerry, Dublin and Mayo were entertained next spring. Gate receipts, as you can well imagine, wouldn’t be long jumping if Division 1 fare was being served up.
None of that is of concern to Kevin Walsh whose focus is on the continued improvement of his team.
“When you get to this point, it would be nice to get promoted. For a county to feel good about itself, promotion is very important because everyone wants to achieve. From the point of view of a team, it is important to be consistently in with a chance of winning more than just every so often,” he said.
“Sometimes, we can look at results more than what is happening. I would value improvement more than a win, at times, until you can become a team consistently winning. That is what we’ve been working towards and what we’ll keep working towards. We can certainly see gradual improvement.”
The two-time All-Ireland medal winner has drawn satisfaction from second-half showings in each of Galways’s six outings to date – in only the game against Clare were they not behind at the break.
“We’ve found ourselves with a bit of work to do at half-time on most Sundays and, in fairness to them, they’ve responded. Maybe, a less experienced team might have struggled in that situation. So it’s good to see the lads sticking to the process irrespective of what way the scoreboard reads.”
Where the footballers enjoy a pretty decent head-to-head against tomorrow’s opponents, the hurlers carry an awful record against the Déise – a county they’ve never beaten in the championship and who’ve won four of their last six spring meetings.
Don’t forget it was around the time of Waterford’s 0-20 to 0-12 league quarter-final win in 2015 player dissatisfaction began to fester in the Galway camp. And we know how that all finished.
Management has looked at 32 players across their five games and with Joe Canning, David Burke and Gearóid McInerney showing encouraging early-season form, they’ll be quietly confident of nailing down a league semi-final berth for the first time since 2014.
Former manager John McIntyre, writing in this week’s Connacht Tribune, neatly summed up the opposition’s current standing.
“They won’t be daunted about travelling to Salthill. Yet, there is no tangible evidence they are pushing on from last year when desperately unlucky to fall to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.”
Micheál Donoghue, for his part, is keen to secure at least one more competitive outing before summer.
“The mindset is that more competitive games are better for our preparation against Dublin at the end of May,” said the Galway boss.
“Confidence is good and morale is high in the camp after the win over Limerick. We’ll be going as hard for it as we can. We are hoping a big crowd will show. When you are travelling around the country, you can see the difference home support makes.”