Galway hurlers expected to win opening championship clash

Championship action has a habit of sneaking up, and this Saturday evening the Galway senior hurlers begin their 2010 campaign when they take on Wexford in Nowlan Park (7pm ).

Galway are hot favourites to win this game against a Wexford outfit that is not the force of old. As a result Galway are practically unbackable with the bookies, with odds of up to 6/1 on. Surprisingly, Wexford, who have never been beaten by the Tribesmen in championship, are available at the likes of 5/1.

Against Wexford in the championship, Galway have lost six and drawn one of their encounters - the last of which was the All-Ireland semi-final of 1996, the year the purple and gold and Martin Storey went on to lift the Liam McCarthy cup.

Wexford manager Colm Bonnar, who is in his second season in charge, will have no problem motivating his charges when he sees how dismissive the media and most pundits have been of their chances.

As star corner back Ollie Canning pointed out during the week:“Wexford are not going to fear us. It will be two teams going hell for leather for 70 minutes, and league results won’t matter. The team that performs best on the day will be in the Leinster semi-final.”

In last year’s Leinster championship Wexford defeated Offaly by 2-17 to 0-16 before crashing out in the semi-final to Dublin. Stephen Banville did the damage in the win over Offaly, notching 2-2, while team captain Diarmuid Lyng was also in good form hitting 0-7 from midfield. Other good players at Bonnar’s disposal include Peter Atkinson, Michael Jacob, Richie Kehoe and Rory Jacob.

As has been well highlighted, Galway have been hit by a spate of injuries, but manager John McIntyre and his management team are hopeful the majority will have cleared up before tonight’s team selection.

When the Galway panel met up at the beginning of the year to set their goals for the season, winning the Leinster championship would have been one of them. They have been working hard all season and with the Walsh Cup and the NHL division one title safely secured, the focus has turned to collecting some championship medals.

For that to happen consistency of performance is required. The winners this weekend will find themselves in the Leinster semi-final against Offaly and a great opportunity to reach the Leinster final.

Significant progress has been made this season and the feel-good factor generated by the success thus far has to be built on.

The lack of a clear run into the game as a result of injury has not helped things and as team selector Joe Connolly said:”If the team was a horse, you’d have to say they have missed a lot of work before the race.”

However with the strength in depth of the panel and the scoring power of the forwards, it is reasonable to expect this is a hurdle Galway can and will jump. A team with serious aspirations of lifting either a Leinster or Liam McCarthy Cup has to be able to defeat a second tier team like Wexford.

Joe Connolly believes that progress is being made.

“We are realistic in what we have to do next Saturday. We will pay no heed to those in the media who are saying we are a “sure-thing”. They are the same people who wrote us off last year after our defeat to Waterford. They knocked us down last year and here they are building us up this year. The only opinions that really matter are those in the group of 40 hurlers that are involved and the backroom team. It is the attitude and belief in that group that makes the real difference.

“We have a very ambitious and hard working panel that have set very high standards for themselves. They would do anything for Galway hurling and they have a terrific sense of place and what is important to bring Galway hurling on. I have huge respect for them as hurlers and as young men. And now they have to deliver on the field of play.”

“We know that we cannot drop our work ethic. When we do we give the opposition a good chance of beating us. So we will be looking for everyone that sees action this weekend to give everything they can for the team and county.”

Connolly is also hopeful Galway’s loyal supporters will get behind the team for the championship.

“We have been going well and vocal and energetic support makes a big difference in a tight game. Nowlan park is a good journey for people and we know that, but the panel really appreciates the support they are getting And we would ask people to get behind us.”

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