Waterford clash provides O'Neill with ideal chance to settle on key combinations

The Galway senior hurlers will hopefully play their last game of the year behind closed doors this Sunday when Waterford visit Pearse Stadium (3.45pm ).

Both sides still have a credible chance of topping Group A, and, as a second last opportunity to give players game time ahead of a Leinster semi-final, this match may be the perfect timing for Shane O’Neill to send out as close to his strongest 15 as possible, even if only until the three-quarter mark.

The riddle of what combination of players constitutes that 15 is surely something that must occupy a lot of O’Neill’s thoughts. Does Gearóid McInerney offer a viable alternative at number three after a decent showing against Limerick? Will Daithí Burke then slot into the centre half back berth or move even further forward into midfield?

These scenarios have implications further afield as well, with the ideal positioning of Joseph Cooney and Joe Canning very much up for debate, although the fluidity of movement within forward units in the modern game makes assigning defined positions very much a fool’s gambit.

Waterford come into the contest off the back of a morale-boosting 1-22 to 0-21 win over Limerick on home soil, in which their energetic, yet thoughtful approach and positioning of Austin Gleeson at number six caught the eye.

Liam Cahill’s men had previously been filleted for five goals in round one by Cork before an experimental side just about got the better of Westmeath. They face Clare in the Munster Championship three weeks from Sunday, so Cahill may well be of a mind to rest star men like Jamie Barron and ace free-taker Stephen Bennett.

Regarded as outsiders for All-Ireland glory, Waterford will still feel like they are on the cusp of a breakthrough season in Cahill’s second campaign at the helm. The knockout format seems to suit the Déise’s qualities, but the question remains whether they have enough strength in depth to get over the line.

Galway have no such worries at present, with competition, even for places on the substitutes' bench, intense, and viable options in all areas of the field available should the need arise.

Can the management team now come up with a winning formula that will harness this array of talent to its maximum potential? The last time the counties met in league action in Salthill turned out to be something of a turning point for Galway’s triumphant 2017 season, as Joe Canning inspired a second half comeback from 10 points down on a day when 13 of the current panel made an appearance.

Since then Waterford have beaten the Tribesmen twice in Walsh Park in the last two years to gain a modicum of revenge for the All-Ireland final defeat, and there is a link back to that fateful encounter on Sunday as Tipperary’s Fergal Horgan is once again assigned to be the man in the middle.


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