Approaching the second last bend, we’re neck and neck with the consistent Dubs while the young Kerry pups and the Farneymen are in hot pursuit.
The question now remains, does this young group of Galway lads continue to press hard for the finish line or are we happy that we’ve done enough to consolidate and use next year for moving up?
We’ll get a lot of answers to all these questions tomorrow in Tralee. There has always been a great tradition associated with Kerry-Galway games.
Two teams that go out and play real, manly, football. Good physical battles with the emphasis on lots of kick-passing, man-on-man marking and creative forward play.
High-scoring games were the norm with supporters walking out the gate satisfied the game was in a good place.
I wouldn’t count on a traditional style game tomorrow, though I do expect it to be a real manly game. These current group players have crossed swords several times over the past two seasons and it’s fair to say, neither team would have been totally satisfied with the outcomes.
The Galway U21s, especially in the first half, tore Kerry to shreds in last year’s All Ireland semi-final. The Kerry seniors floored Galway in last year’s All Ireland SFC quarter-final. At Austin Stack Park, plenty will be looking to win back some pride.
From a Galway perspective, we’ve stopped standing back and admiring teams. The games are still alive at half-time. We are treating and preparing for every team with the utmost respect, and not respectfully allowing them dictate the game to us.
This is a massive step forward for the current senior footballers. We have shown some consistency in our game-plan and game-management. We have been consistent in our team selections and this has created a greater sense of understanding and cohesion.
This is positive. We were extremely fit and sharp in the first three games. We were really hungry and played with a championship bite. This bite is being created by the new captain, Damian Comer.
At the moment, the NUIG and Galway captain is playing with pride and personal motivation. He understands the honour of leading his team and more importantly, by his on-field actions. In last Saturday’s Sigerson Cup final, UCD was aware of the threat Damian carried.
We assigned last year’s All Ireland winning Dublin U21 joint-captain Cillian O’Shea to pick him up. Cillian is a fast, tough defender and doesn’t shirk any marking responsibilities.
We decided that if Damian won the ball, we would force him to his left side, as he normally has a very high scoring percentage off his right.
But Damian, under extreme pressure from Cillian and others, scored with left and right. He scored three very good points in the first half and was very unlucky not to score a goal.
In the second half, UCD decided to double up on Damian and he didn’t score again. More worryingly and unsurprisingly, Damian tired.
He’s had a terrific run of form since the 2018 season has kicked off, but now Galway need to be careful with him.
Galway has a good panel of players at present, but like the majority of teams, we don’t have a lot of influential players. I’m sure Kevin Walsh has one eye firmly fixed on the Connacht Championship opener against Mayo on May 13 in Castlebar.
He can afford to have one eye on this already as Galway are very close to being safe in Division 1.
The balancing act begins now for Galway. Does Walsh continue to push relentlessly with the same team for the remaining four league games? Maybe Kevin will give two or three new guys a start over the coming weeks and see who’s really ready for the championship.
Galway, like Kerry, have a lot of U20s on their league panel. A decision will have to be made shortly on who makes “the senior cut” and who stays with the 20s. The best way to find this out is via an ultra-competitive league.
Players will know themselves if they are ready for the senior step-up. Can they handle the increased physicality, pace and intensity? I think most of the current Galway and Kerry lads can.
David Clifford and Sean Mulkerrins are two such. It’s evident David Clifford is really enjoying his chance with the Kerry seniors and I’d love to see Galway give young Sean Mulkerrins a chance on Sunday to impress.
The young NUIG full-back had a wonderful Sigerson campaign and will have more of them as, like Clifford, he’s only just out of minor. He’s a tall, athletic and fearless defender who seems to relish marking the “big names”. What a duel that could be on Sunday.
I know most Galway people would love to see Sean Andy O Ceallaigh on Clifford, but I think we need him to have a cut off Paul Geaney. Geaney, along with Paddy McBrearty, Conor McManus and Damian Comer is the most influential forward for his county at present.
Another fascinating duel tomorrow is the midfield tussle of Conroy/Cooke v O’Sullivan/Barry. Peter Cooke (NUIG), Barry O’Sullivan and Jack Barry (both UCD) all had magnificent Sigerson campaigns. Peter Cooke will be hoping to nail down a regular spot with Galway this year and we need him there.
He has all the attributes to be a classic midfielder. He just needs regular game time to prove this. The same applies to Barry O’Sullivan from a Kerry point of view.
Jack Barry on the other hand is already a classy midfielder. The most celebrated and stylish midfielder currently playing the game is Brian Fenton. The Rolls Royce of GAA midfielders. Jack Barry has this potential too. The difference between the two? Confidence.
Brian Fenton’s confidence has been built through consistent game-time, experience and success. He’s figured out what works well for him in a game but crucially how to stay involved in a game. Fenton has discovered his scoring touch. He can easily bag 1-3 from play any day he plays for Dublin.
When Jack Barry gains enough game-time and experience, I’ve no doubt that he will have more success in the game. He has the ability to dominate games with his direct running, aerial dominance and scoring threat. We might or might not get to see that scoring threat tomorrow.
From a Galway perspective, I hope he keeps it for another day. But he is a talent worth keeping a very close eye on.