A thirty-point winning margin for the Galway hurlers over Westmeath on Saturday afternoon ensured the relevant boxes were ticked for manager Shane O’Neill, who was pleased with his side’s application after an unsurprisingly sluggish start.
“I thought right to the end they worked extremely hard, right to the end where we saw some great tracking back by the forwards,” O’Neill says. “We were very rusty in the first quarter and probably lacked a bit of composure, but we came into it then and started making some good decisions.”
Three first-half goals from Conor Whelan, Niall Burke, and Ja Mannion put the contest to bed before half time, with Westmeath limited to the free-taking excellence of Niall O’Brien and an outrageous point by Ciaran Doyle to add a touch of respectability to the scoreline.
“The lads were in great form coming back and they are in extremely good condition as you can see,” O’Neill says. “Any guys who were on their own were using a ball wall. Others in twos and three worked depending on who was in the house. It was really just to get the expansive long-striking into it. We are relatively happy."
The precision of Galway’s stickwork was certainly eye-catching at times, although the space and time the players were given must be factored in. That will almost assuredly not be the case when All-Ireland champions Limerick visit Salthill this Sunday (3.45pm ).
For all the talk of the league’s unimportance, O’Neill will want to put one over on his native county in his second year in charge. Two losses were incurred last year, bringing Limerick’s winning run against the Tribesmen to four, and it will be interesting to see if squad rotation brings Joe Canning, Daithí Burke, and Padraic Mannion back into the frame for selection.
Galway’s last successes over John Kiely’s men came back in 2017, a comfortable league semi-final victory giving few if any hints that Limerick would be the men to deny Galway a two-in-a-row in 2018.
Galway are universally acknowledged as the team with the physical traits best suited to taking on a powerful Limerick outfit toe to toe, but whether Galway’s middle eight can outfox the likes of Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty, and Tom Morrissey remains to be seen.
Lynch and Hegarty were only introduced from the bench in the final quarter of Limerick’s league opener last Saturday against Tipperary, a tactical dogfight in which the Treaty men chipped away at a five-point deficit late on to salvage a draw.
Tipperary withdrew their entire full forward line in an attempt to clog up the spaces in which Limerick thrive, but it is hard to see the Galway mentors employing such a radical measure to try to halt Limerick’s gallop.
At their very best, Galway can get the better of Limerick. Whether they will be able to produce that at this stage of the campaign is another matter.
Sunday’s referee James Owens knows these two teams well, having been in charge for both the 2018 All-Ireland final and last year’s semi-final. The introduction of the sin-bin for cynical play was the main topic of debate before last week’s action, but now the alteration of the advantage rule has become a major bone of contention that hopefully will not overly impact on Sunday’s game as a spectacle.