By Ray Silke
Galway are hot favourites tomorrow night to beat Sligo up in Markievicz Park (7pm ) in the Connacht semi-final. However, the question that has to be asked, is why?
Why are so many people speaking so confidently about Galway's chances this weekend? On what are they basing that belief?
Admittedly, Sligo had a very underwhelming league campaign this season and had a torrid championship in 2013, however, they have circled the wagons for Saturday evening and they will believe they have a great opportunity to get a big championship win this weekend. The harsh realism from a Galway perspective is that Sligo's record against Galway over the past few championship outings has been very good. The Yeats men have drawn one and won two of the last three summer meetings that the sides have had. They will not fear Galway, nor should they.
A lot of the players they still have on their starting 15 like Ross Donavan, Charlie Harrison, Adrian Marren, David Kelly, and Mark Breheny will remember defeating Galway in a Connacht final in Hyde Park on a score-line of 1-10 to 0-12 back in 2007. Mayo's Peter Ford was the Galway manager that year, and surprisingly only Finian Hanley, from the 19 players who saw action that day in maroon and white, is still on the Galway panel. The last time the sides met in championship was in 2012, at Pearse Stadium. Sligo under Kevin Walsh won well that day on a score-line of 2-14 to 0-15. Adrian Marren was the key man for Sligo in that tie, finishing with an impressive 2-6. Others who hit the target included Alan Costello, David Kelly, and Mark Breheny.
Interestingly, from a Galway perspective, their top scorer in that clash was Mark Hehir (0-7 ). Gary Sice also notched three points and Michael Meehan got one. Two years on and none of those three men will feature this weekend, for different reasons. Galway team manager Alan Mulholland does not pull any punches in his assessment of what his team needs to do this Saturday in front of the Sky Sport cameras to get a win. "We need to perform and produce a very good display. We have some very good players and if we play to our potential, we will be able for the challenge. We were very focused for the trip to Ruislip and we have to bring the same focus to Markievicz Park. Hopefully we will have a bit of momentum and confidence from the win over London and we can build on that. Sligo will be very hard to beat, but we have a lot of belief in our squad."
Galway were expected to name their team last night (Thursday ) and it is unlikely to contain too many changes from the side that easily defeated London by 3-17 to 0-7 last month. Obviously Johnny Duane (St James ) will not be available for Saturday's clash after being released from the squad last week and that will leave a spot at corner back. The ongoing injury problems affecting Joss Moore (knee ) and Keith Kelly (ankle ) leave the management team a bit stretched for options in the full-back line. There is also genuine concern over James Kavanagh's availability due to a niggling hamstring injury. But one plus for Galway is that team captain Paul Conroy did take part in last weekend's training session and he may be able to play a role at some stage this weekend. Conroy is a key player for Galway and the sooner he is back to full match fitness the better for Galway's chances of a good championship run.
It is likely to be a very tight game, and Galway will have to perform all over the field at a very high level from the start if they are to advance to the Connacht final. Whoever comes out on top on Saturday evening, will know they will have to up their game again a few more gears when they meet Mayo on July 13.