Liam Mellows face a huge challenge against Cuala

Liam Mellows Tadgh Haran ready to give all he has in Saturday's All Ireland club hurling semi-final in Thurles.
 					Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Liam Mellows Tadgh Haran ready to give all he has in Saturday's All Ireland club hurling semi-final in Thurles. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Liam Mellows' hurlers and their army of loyal supporters head to Thurles on Saturday to take on Dublin side Cuala in the eagerly anticipated All-Ireland senior club hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium (4pm ).

Cuala, who are the reigning Leinster and All-Ireland champions, are blistering hot favourites with the money men to win the tie at 1/6, and the Galway champions are big outsiders at 9/2, and evens at plus six.

2017 was a super year for the city side. They captured their first Galway SHC crown since 1970 when defeating Gort in the county final by 3-12 to 1-15 - their three goals from joint team captain Aonghus Callanan, Tadhg Haran and Conor Kavanagh.

That county title success moved Mellows to third in the Galway roll of honour with their eighth title, but now they have another major target which is a place in the All-Ireland final on St Patrick's Day.

Clare man Louis Mulqueen has been a real success story for the club since his arrival as team manager early last season, and his squad will be hoping his magic touch can continue for Saturday's impending challenge.

Mattie Kenny

The Mellows panel is fully aware the current All-Ireland champions, under the impressive guidance of Galway man Mattie Kenny and former senior selector Anthony Cunningham, will be a hard nut to crack.

Cuala are extremely talented, hard working and consistent, and they have a good few of the Dublin senior hurling panel in their ranks, such as young superstar Con O'Callaghan, Paul Schutte, David Treacy, and Cian O'Callaghan.

They have not been beaten in a long time, and they will have confidence and experience to call on when the going gets tough on Saturday.

Mellows' centre forward Tadgh Haran. who had a hugely impressive few months at the latter end of last year's Galway championship. acknowledges that many people see his side as outsiders, but it is not something that bothers the recently graduated national school teacher.

Haran says Mellows will need to have improved on last season.

"We know we will have to bring our performance up a few notches on what we produced last season. Cuala are a top side and current champions. However, it is a challenge we have prepared diligently for. We have lots of belief in our squad and we are really looking forward to taking them on this Saturday. We are going down to Thurles to produce a quality performance and give it everything we have.

"They have six or seven Dublin senior panellists, but a lot of our squad have played with Galway at different age levels too. Our team is also built on the back of some very good club minor and U21 teams over the past few years. Some of those teams may not have won county titles, but that desire for success is driving us on."

Haran, who hit a goal and struck two beautiful sideline points in their county final victory, is pleased how their training and preparations have gone in the past few weeks.

"Everyone has really knuckled down since the start of January, and Louis [Mulqueen] and the rest of the management team have helped us to focus on the task at hand. The county final win was fantastic, but your targets change, your expectations as a squad change, and we are now looking to produce a huge performance on Saturday and see where that takes us."

Haran was not overly happy with his early form last year, some of which he puts own to struggling with the dual commitment of full time study and top class club hurling.

"We worked very hard in the early season and we might have racked up 150 sessions during the year, going four and five nights some weeks. That was tough going, but when the exams finished for the summer, it was easier to balance things and my form improved. I love teaching and am very happy with my career choice. It is great to go training with a smile on your face and that shows in your form on the field too."

Haran will be expected to do a lot of good work in the centre forward role and raise a few flags on Saturday, but if Mellows are to advance, they will also need big displays from free taker Adrian Morrisey, who notched 0-8 (7fs ) in the county final, Ronan Elwood, Aonghus Callanan, and Conor Kavanagh.

Defensively they will look to Michael Connelly, Cathal Reilly, Seán Morrissey, former All-Star and joint captain David Collins, and goalkeeper Kenneth Walsh to keep the Cuala men at bay.

Around the middle Jack Hastings and Kevin Lee will be expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and Jack Forde, David Fahy and Conor Elwood, who all came off the bench in the county final, will be expected to make an impact if they are called on.

Mellows are massive outsiders to win on Saturday, the Mellows men believe they can do the business. And that is what matters.

•The game is live on TG4 and the winners will face either Na Piarsaigh (Limerick ) or Slaughneil (Derry ) in the final.

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