Micheál Donoghue begins his fourth All-Ireland championship campaign in charge of the Galway senior hurlers when the reigning Leinster champions take on Carlow in an intriguing contest at Pearse Stadium on Sunday (3pm ).
An uninspiring Allianz League campaign in which Waterford ended Galway's involvement at the quarter-final stage has left more questions than answers about the depth of the current panel after Donoghue gave plenty of chances to a host of players with aspirations of breaking into the starting 15 when the business end of the season comes around.
Without star forward Joe Canning, who is in physio rehab after an operation on a serious hamstring injury and with no definitive date set for his return, Donoghue will be mindful of Carlow’s attributes and will pay them due respect, while also wanting to avenge an embarrassing result from earlier in the year.
Carlow caused major ripples in the hurling landscape with a run of impressive performances in the opening rounds of the league. Following their win in the Christy Ring trophy in 2017 and the Joe McDonagh competition in 2018, they held Galway to a 0-20 draw in Netwatch Cullen Park on February 3.
The icing on the cake for Colm Bonnar’s side came with a victory over Offaly in the relegation play-off to secure their status alongside the top sides in the country for another year. Now they travel west with nothing to lose and everything to gain as Galway bid to lay down a marker for the year ahead with an assured performance.
With Cathal Mannion looking impressive in a deeper role in midfield, and his brother Padraic trialled at number six during the League, it will be interesting to see if Galway veer from the tried and trusted methods that have seen them lose only one championship contest in the last two years.
Kieran Donaghy’s addition to the backroom team has raised eyebrows in places, but any sort of marginal gain that can improve the team’s attacking production will be welcomed. Hurling has evolved into an increasingly intricate, tactical battle of wits over the last few years and the Kerry native’s unique skillset from two different codes could yet prove invaluable.
With St Thomas’ Fintan Burke also ruled out for the year after suffering a knee injury in the club final, it must have been a significant boost for morale when it was confirmed both Joseph Cooney and Johnny Glynn would be returning from abroad, while the excellent recent club form of Clarinbridge’s Evan Niland and St Thomas’ Darragh Burke has seen them added to the panel.
Daithí Burke’s return to the number three jersey also changes the dynamic of Galway’s last line of defence, behind which Ferghal Flannery looks a safe bet to retain the netminder’s jersey despite a couple of costly errors.
Limerick’s meteoric rise to become the poster boys of the hurling world, with a squad depth to be envied and a gameplan that seems to have become almost second nature to their players, has meant Galway are somewhat out of the national spotlight as the quest for Liam McCarthy begins again.
A resounding win over Carlow on Sunday will hardly change that, but the manner and style of the performance without Canning pulling the strings will be interesting to watch as Galway begin their challenge for a hat-trick of Leinster titles.