Connolly raises the bar for Tribe<

CRUNCH TIME: Former Galway hurler Joe Connolly believes tonight's game is huge for both sets of players,  managers and counties. Picture: Andrew Downes.

ALL-IRELAND SHC ROUND 1:
Tipperary v Galway
Shortly after 8pm tonight, Championship 2014 will have come to a end for either Galway or Tipperary.

No prizes for guessing which side former Galway All-Ireland-winning captain Joe Connolly hopes will be still standing.

But county allegiances aside, Connolly sees huge similarities between the two sides, in terms of expectation and pressure.

“Both are coming from a background where locally and nationally they’re being criticised — ‘Why aren’t ye achieving your full potential?’, that’s the question thrown at the two of them. I know this Tipp team won an All-Ireland in 2010 while Galway haven’t won since 1988 but many people believe they have underachieved since. The two teams are looking to reclaim the faith of their supporters. In that sense it’s a huge game.”

The frustrations are understandable but in their championship losses this year at least, perhaps supporters should make allowances for the opposition. Galway lost to a rejuvenated Kilkenny — after a replay — while Tipperary were beaten by the reigning Munster champions, a Limerick team still not getting the respect it deserves.

“I do agree about how people undervalue the performance against Limerick, and Tipperary can improve again — they are now on very attractive odds, I think, for the All-Ireland. Limerick will test Cork on Sunday week (Munster final), they are a very good defensive team, very disciplined. A team that can tackle well now has an advantage and that is a big part of Limerick’s game; any team like that has a great chance in any game. There’s a culture of tight marking in this Limerick team, they’re going to give Cork some game.

“But I have a great meas on Eamon O’Shea (Tipperary manager, lecturer in NUIG, living in Galway), I think he has a great hurling head and I’m hoping that, eventually, he can do something for us in his adopted county, in whatever capacity. Himself and his sons at local level are quite active on the hurling scene. I’d have a great respect for him and I love some of the hurling being played by Tipp under his coaching.

“You can see the mindset he has brought with him — obviously they have a game-plan, they don’t just go out with no idea of what they want to do, but he loves to see fellas playing with a freedom, making decisions on the pitch. Tipperary might have lost their way a bit after winning that All-Ireland as regards their capacity for hard work, not being distracted by other things, but I fear now they may be extremely close to where they want to be.”

Galway, meanwhile, remain as enigmatic as ever, and even though Kilkenny were well on top in the replay especially, what if Joe Canning’s 23m free had flashed just inside the post, rather than out wide in the 59th minute, at a time when Galway were again in the midst of a comeback?

As with Tipperary, Connolly sees very positive signs. “There’s an immediacy in the expectations in Galway hurling I’m not sure are realistic. If we put in the right work over the next few years, then yes, the possibilities are there, without question.

“I’m not sure yet we’ve got the team to win four big matches that you need to do to win the All-Ireland but I believe the younger lads that have come through lately for Galway are genuine county senior hurlers. If we shape those lads right — of course that’s Galway’s crucifixion over the years, isn’t it, that we don’t do enough to shape them from minor to senior. But the likes of Jason Flynn, Cathal Mannion and those, in the league games and championship games we’ve seen so far, they look like genuine county senior players. I’m encouraged by that.”


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