Second chances are now a thing of the past as the All-Ireland senior hurling championship ramps up a notch this weekend. Galway and Waterford prepare to lock horns for a coveted quarter-final place on Saturday afternoon in Semple Stadium (2pm ).
Exiting the race for the Liam MacCarthy before the runners and riders have even reached the starting line in Ballybrit, without a championship win to their name in 2021, is something Shane O’Neill and co will not want to contemplate, but it is a fate that could befall Galway if they cannot bring their A game to the table.
Limerick, sensationally, and Kilkenny, methodically, both claimed provincial honours last weekend and can now rest for two weeks ahead of the semi-finals. If Galway are to make it that far, they will need to overcome the two counties they met in the latter stages of their all-conquering 2017 campaign.
Waterford appeared to be cruising to victory over Laois last Saturday, leading by eight points at half time, before a stunning revival from Cheddar Plunkett’s men put them into a scarcely believable lead with 10 minutes to play. Liam Cahill’s side was wasteful beyond belief as Laois took the initiative, but in the end Austin Gleeson set up Patrick Curran for a tonic goal, and it took another from Stephen Bennett well into injury time to quell the Laois storm.
Some might say it was a no-win game for the Déise and they are now set up to have a right crack at Galway as the underdogs, but surely the Tipperary native will have some concerns regarding this performance, although the return of Conor Prunty to the full back line after injury was a welcome bonus.
Jamie Barron also saw action late on when the game was still in the melting pot, out of necessity more than anything else after the influential midfielder missed the loss to Clare due to a quad injury. Cahill also confirmed Kieran Bennett would be an injury doubt for Saturday, but the fact remains that Galway have only ever beaten Waterford once in championship fare, with Galway suffering harrowing quarter-final losses to the Munster men in 1998, 2009, and 2011.
Only Kevin Moran remains in the Waterford squad a decade on from that game in Thurles, with David Burke, Joe Canning, and Aidan Harte still involved for Galway.
Galway may need all three to be in the heart of the action come Saturday, but O’Neill might also have to come up with some fresh ideas to catch Waterford on the hop.
While Galway are nowhere near as bad a side as the scoreline against Dublin may have suggested, Mattie Kenny looked the clear winner of the tactical battle on the sideline. The most worrying aspect for Galway fans was their side’s inability to create chances when they really needed to.
Waterford showed plenty of promising attacking play in the league outing in Pearse Stadium before Galway took control. Limerick may have pulled off the ultimate Houdini act last Sunday, but if Galway are to fall well behind again on a sweltering hot day in Semple Stadium, then it will surely be curtains for their hopes this year.