When the dealer threw the cards on the table last Sunday evening, it was Galway who got the joker in the pack - drawn to play against Kerry on Saturday in Croke Park at 4pm.
There is no doubt Kerry were the toughest team to pull from the round three winners. The other three teams - Kildare, Wexford, and even Tyrone, are not operating in the rarefied atmosphere that Kerry have inhabited in the past few seasons.
The famed green and gold standard bearers are attempting to reach their fifth consecutive All-Ireland final, and few would argue with any massive conviction or statistical evidence against the possibility of that happening.
Pat O’ Shea’s team are a vastly experienced bunch of players. Darragh Ó Sé is going for his sixth All-Ireland senior medal this year, and he will line out in his 71st championship game this weekend.
Allied to that experience is Kerry’s strength in depth. The likes of Eoin Brosnan, Séan O’ Sullivan, and Tommy Griffin were all able to come off the bench at critical stages when needed last weekend to see off Monaghan’s fiery challenge.
While Kerry did enough to get over that game, their manager Pat O’ Shea feels they need to improve for their clash with the Tribesmen.
“Galway are a very good footballing side and there is a freshness about them under Liam Sammon this year. They also have a lot of confidence going for them and we feel it is a tough draw.”
O’ Shea won an All-Ireland club medal with Dr Crokes of Killarney as a dangerous corner forward back in 1992 and he knows that a six-day turnaround between games is not ideal.
“It will be tough to get our boys recovered. There are a few knocks and bruises picked up and we won’t know until later in the week if everyone is 100 per cent for Saturday.”
One man who is in grave danger of missing the tie is centre-back Aiden O’ Mahony who has severe bruising in his calf and was on crutches earlier in the week. The Rathmore man is probably the best number six in the country, and if he was unavailable, it would be a boost to Galway’s chances of progressing to the last four.
Liam Sammon and his management team will hope their four week lay-off since the Connacht final will not lead to any rustiness.
Sammon was in upbeat form yesterday morning when he spoke to the Galway Advertiser. “There is a lot of confidence in the panel that we can do the business on Saturday. The game has come a bit too early for guys like Declan Meehan and Joe Bergin to start, but they definitely will have a roll to play. We learnt a lot in our game against them in the league in Pearse Stadium and we won’t be standing off them like we did that day.”
Galway will need to hit ground running against Kerry and a good start is vital in order to maintain the progress from their win over Mayo. The two goals in the first half in Castlebar in the provincial final were vital in ensuring that victory and likewise this Saturday it is difficult to see Galway winning without raising a green flag or two.
Sammon concurs. “A good positive early start from us is important and we are confident that we have the forwards to ask their defence a lot of serious questions. Kerry will start as hot favourites, but all we can do is concentrate on what is happening in our camp and we are happy that if we play as we know we can, we won’t be far away.”
In order for a Galway win, his side will need to get their fair share of possession around the central diamond and the four main men in that area wearing maroon Diarmuid Blake, Niall Coleman, Barry Cullinane, and team captain Padraic Joyce, will all have key roles to play. Up front Sammon’s options have been reduced dramatically with Nicky Joyce recovering from groin surgery, andthe latest casualty is Sean Armstrong who tore his groin at the weekend.
The breaks around the middle third will be crucial and Galway need to disrupt the supply going into Kieran Donaghy, Tommy Walsh, and a floating Colm Cooper. If that trio get plenty of quality supply, it will leave Gareth Bradshaw, Finian Hanley, Damien Burke, or possibly Kieran Fitzgerald, facing the aerial bombardment that rained down on the Monaghan full-back line.
A good full-forward line getting lots of ball is extremely difficult to contain and Galway’s first line of defence will have to start way up the field with forwards stopping the Kerry defenders coming out with ball and creating overlaps. There has to be major pressure on the players giving the passes into the Kerry inside line.
Historically Galway had a very good record against Kerry and beat them three years in succession from 1963-1965. The last two wins in that hat-trick of successes were in All-Ireland finals.
However since 2000 Kerry have beaten Galway in all the big clashes - The All-Ireland final of 2000, after a replay; the quarter-final in 2002 on a score-line of 2-17 to 1-12; and both the league finals of 2004 and 2006. It would be wonderful to stop that sequence of defeats this Saturday.
Galway have not won a big championship game in Croke Park since the All-Ireland final success over Meath in 2001 and all Galway supporters will be hopeful that Saturday can be the day to change that fact. However based on recent form, Kerry’s greater attacking options, and their pedigree and experience, it is hard not to predict a Kerry win.
It would be fantastic for Galway football and this particular team if they could go on and contest an All-Ireland semi-final with Cork.
In sport there is no such thing as a sure thing. Kerry will have dismissed this Galway challenge and some of them are even gearing up already for a crack at Cork, so if Galway could get in for a few major scores, and the team is backed up with strong and vocal Galway support, they have a chance.
However they face a massive task to reach the last four and down the Kerry colours.