Conor Whelan knows he will now have to make do without the surprise element of his first senior season with Galway.
The Kinvara 19-year-old shot to prominence last year, scoring 1-2 against Cork in an All-Ireland quarter-final after being drafted into the team from relative obscurity by Anthony Cunningham.
He followed up with two points against Tipperary in the semi-final and again in the final defeat to Kilkenny.
Whelan accepts he must add more arrows to his quill as he becomes more of a known entity. “Yeah, I suppose I’m more of a target now but that’s for me to adapt my game and that’s something I have to get used to at this stage. Every inter-county forward is going to be marked by a serious back so it’s not too much of a change but maybe they are paying a small bit more attention, I suppose.”
That doesn’t mean Whelan believes he or Galway have to add more to the physical edge even if it was determined by some it was lacking when they fell to Kilkenny in the second half of last September’s final.
“It’s hard to put your finger on what went wrong. Kilkenny’s experience prevailed and we were overwhelmed by their intensity in the second half but we are focusing on Westmeath, hopefully get a result there and then look forward to the Leinster final and hopefully get revenge.
“I think Galway are a physical team anyway so we were nearly able to match them physically but as our energy waned the second half they had that extra bit in the tank and extra experience.”
Whelan knows how much the intermediate experience last year benefitted him. It was his saving grace after being overlooked by the seniors earlier in their championship campaign. “I suppose I was pushing for a place in the Leinster final and I was very disappointed not to feature at all and we went back training and I put the head down and worked and I was lucky enough to be picked against Cork and was happy to contribute to the team.
“The intermediates, I suppose, is a mixture of U21s and senior. It’s not quite senior but it’s not far off it. It was a good platform for Galway management to view the players who aren’t making the senior grade and see could they push for places. Thankfully, it gave me a serious chance.
“Our first intermediate match was a bit of a reality check against Kilkenny. It took us a while to get used to the action. It was a step-up from minor because the physical side of things was tougher and once you got used to that it wasn’t too far off the senior grade.”
Ahead of Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath in Mullingar, Whelan knows the challenge presented by the Leinster qualifying group table-toppers.
“From what I know in 2012, they ran us very close but, look, we are not taking our eye off the ball for a second. We now Michael Ryan is doing a very good job up there and we are preparing for a dogfight. They pose a serious threat in their own back garden.”
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