Much was made of Galway’s dismal Croke Park record on the run into their Division 2 final against Kildare at the beginning of April.
Stretching back to the summer of 2002, the westerners had played 11 games at GAA HQ. Victory eluded them on each visit.
Equally unimpressive is the county’s All-Ireland quarter-final history. Indeed, Galway’s terrible run at Croker started with the 2002 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kerry (2-17 to 1-12). Twelve months earlier, John O’Mahony’s charges had overcome Roscommon by 0-14 to 1-5. That six-point win marks the sole occasion a Galway football team successfully negotiated the quarter-final hurdle.
Thrice have Galway fallen to Kerry in the last eight (2002, ’08 and ’14), with Donegal (2003, after a replay) and Cork (2005) also inflicting defeat.
Only Tyrone and Donegal have lost more quarter-finals (six each), but this comes with a fairly sizeable asterisk, given both counties have also secured six and four quarter-final wins, respectively.
Kildare, similar to the Tribesmen, have won just one of the six All-Ireland quarter-final games. Dublin is another county showing five quarter-final reverses. They’ve racked up twice as many wins, though.
At the top of the class are Galway’s opponents on Sunday. Kerry have never failed to reach the quarter-final stage, winning 14 of their 17 games and drawing with Dublin in 2001.
The league final win over Kildare ended Galway’s 15-year wait for a win at Croke Park. The challenge on Sunday is to bridge the 16-year gap to the county’s last championship triumph at the venue. Forward Shane Walsh says the current crop aren’t concentrated by such statistics.
“I don’t think there was ever a fear factor about Croke Park. This is a new group compared to years gone by. You are just looking forward to the next game and Croke Park is just the venue,” asserted the 24-year old. Everyone’s dream is to be playing in Croke Park and Kerry is the team we are playing. It’s nice to be looking at that.”
There wasn’t much more Galway could have done right when putting 4-17 past Donegal, but manager Kevin Walsh reckons the intensity shown at Markievicz Park will have to be improved upon if his team are to rattle the Kingdom.
“I suppose, there is a feel-good factor present after the Donegal match. Wins like that build confidence. We had a real intensity to our play against Donegal, really fighting and battling for every ball and, to have any chance against Kerry, we’ll have to replicate that and even step it up another level again.”
His desire is that Galway, unlike previous quarter-final appearances, can depart the field with no regrets. “I’m looking forward to Galway giving a big display and I think, all year, with the exception of the Roscommon match, we have put up consistent performances. The lads took their second chance last weekend and now want to make the most of this opportunity. At the end of the day, there is only going to be one team lifting Sam Maguire, but let’s see where a performance will bring us on Sunday.”
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