ting prospect of a trip into the cauldron that is Nowlan Park for a crucial Leinster championship round robin fixture against Kilkenny on Sunday afternoon (2pm ) with Micheál Donoghue’s men under the microscope again.
It will be a first ever championship outing for Galway in the intimidating home of the Cats, with their wily manager Brian Cody eager for his unbeaten side to lay down a marker and book their place in the Leinster final in Croke Park on June 30.
Galway may not have set the world alight against either Carlow or Wexford, but this Sunday presents the first true test of their title credentials against a side who have jumped ahead of them in the race for the Liam McCarthy cup in the eyes of the odds compilers.
That may all change again after Sunday if Galway can summon up a high-octane, clinical performance for 70 plus minutes against a team who are hoping that a number of their high-profile injury victims can make a welcome return to action this weekend.
After dispatching Carlow with the minimum of fuss two weeks ago, Kilkenny unusually released their squad members back to their clubs for a round of league matches, with Cillian Buckley and Richie Hogan both taking important steps on their road to full fitness.
Defenders Conor Delaney and Joey Holden are also back in contention for a start while St Thomas’ nemesis Colin Fennelly looks set to miss out with a hamstring injury and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy is a long-term absentee with a knee injury.
Galway will continue to sorely miss the scoring exploits of Joe Canning for a number of weeks, but more positive aspects of the draw with Wexford were the return to action of pivotal defender Daithí Burke and first outings of the year for Joseph Cooney and Johnny Glynn.
John Hanbury also made an invaluable contribution off the bench in the closing stages and it will be interesting to see if Beagh’s Adrian Tuohey is pushing for a starting berth. Cooney may move up the field into his more accustomed position in the half forward line at the expense of Niall Burke.
Put in its simplest terms, Galway need to drastically reduce the number of unforced errors that crept into their play in the second half against Wexford, get Cathal Mannion back into scoring positions, and compete with what will likely be an imposing physical challenge set down by Kilkenny, who will be keen to stop Galway’s three-in-a-row ambitions in their province.
Galway were unbeaten in three championship outings against Kilkenny in 2018, winning a round robin game in Pearse Stadium comfortably before needing a replay in Thurles to retain their Leinster title. On each occasion Galway limited Kilkenny to 18 scores or less, winning by seven in Semple Stadium despite conceding three goals.
In the years before Galway’s All-Ireland triumph in 2017, in which they avoided Cody’s ire altogether, Kilkenny had very much held the upper hand in this rivalry. Between 2012 and 2016, the counties met fifteen times in league and championship, with Cody’s men emerging victorious on ten occasions while Galway’s lone victory of note came in the 2012 Leinster final.
Four times in the last ten years Nowlan Park has played host to league encounters between Kilkenny and Galway, with the Tribemen’s lone victory coming in March 2010 when a John McIntyre-managed team fought back from a five-point second half deficit en route to claiming the league title.
David Burke and Aidan Harte are the sole outfield survivors from the starting Galway line up on that occasion, while Colm Callanan made a substitute appearance after an injury to starting keeper James Skehill. TJ Reid notched 1-3 that day and will again be a man that Galway will need to pay close attention to.
His Ballyhale Shamrocks teammate Adrian Mullen is another who appears destined for a long career in the black and amber jersey. Whoever Galway assign to mark the young forward will need to be on their game, and Cork referee Colm Lyons, who officiated a league encounter between the sides in Nowlan Park in 2014, will need to keep a firm grip on proceedings.
It will be a surprising outcome if Galway do manage to get the better of Kilkenny on Sunday. A negative result may not define their season, but Micheál Donoghue will be hard pushed to lift his men for a Parnell Park showdown with Dublin six days later if Galway struggle to compete with their hosts.
A forward line supposedly lacking leaders should have every motivation to prove the doubters wrong, but whether Galway’s over-reliance on Joe Canning has yet to be fully revealed remains to be seen. A fascinating encounter is in store as the television cameras turn their attention away from the Munster championship for the first time this year.