The Galway hurlers' reward for an encouraging second-half display against Wexford on Saturday is another lengthy road trip this weekend to take on Waterford in Nowlan Park on Sunday (3.30pm ).
With Semple Stadium off limits due to the Tipperary footballers division two relegation decider against Clare, and Pairc Uí Chaoimh’s playing surface not being fit for purpose, Galway are left with the longest distance to travel of the four counties remaining in the Allianz Hurling League.
Since semi-finals were re-introduced to the league format in 2012, this is the first year any of the traditional hurling powers of Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny have not been involved, hinting at the shadow-boxing that appears to have become more commonplace at this time of year.
Galway would surely love a potential rematch against Limerick in a league final ahead of the start of their championship campaign, but their path is blocked by Páraic Fanning’s Waterford side, which blitzed Clare in the second half to record a second notable home win on the spin.
Austin Gleeson’s much anticipated return to action saw the 2016 Hurler of the Year pocket five points from play, while Stephen Bennett punished Clare’s ill-discipline on 14 occasions on another blustery afternoon in Walsh Park.
Galway, for their part, passed a decent test of character. After conceding three first-half goals against Wexford, they finished 3-21 to 3-11 winners at Pearse Stadium on Saturday.
Conor McDonald (two ) and Lee Chin were on the mark as Galway’s last line of defence suffered, but Joe Canning’s impeccable free-taking kept the home side in touch, despite never firing on all cylinders with the wind at their backs.
Goals can change games in an instant, though, and Cathal Mannion’s early bullet lifted his side from the doldrums, with Niall Burke adding a second after good work by Brian Concannon in the third quarter as Wexford’s challenge wilted dramatically.
Johnny Coen’s introduction to the midfield sector had helped bring about a change in Galway’s application, while Gearóid McInerney’s redeployment to full back tightened up a defensive unit that had lost Padraic Mannion to injury in the first half, with Aidan Harte following suit late in the game.
Thomas Monaghan is another player on the doubtful list for Sunday after limping off, while Fintan Burke’s knee injury picked up in the club final will unfortunately rule him out of Micheál Donoghue’s plans for this year.
Despite these injury concerns and the fact of their loss to the same team only two weeks previously, and the short distance the Déise have to travel to this neutral venue, Galway are still slight favourites to win on Sunday and reach their second league final in three years.
GALWAY: F Flannery; J Grealish, P Killeen, D Morrissey; A Harte, P Mannion, G McInerney; C Mannion (1-2 ), S Loftus; N Burke (1-1 ), J Canning (0-15, 0-13fs, 0-1’65 ), C Whelan (0-1 ); S Bleahene, B Concannon (0-2 ), T Monaghan. Subs: K Hussey for P Mannion (22 mins ), J Coen for Morrissey (35 mins ), D Glennon for Monaghan (34 mins ), S Kilduff for Harte (64 mins ), T Haran (1-0 ) for Bleahene (69 mins ).