Padraic Joyce’s Galway will start their quest for promotion to division one on Sunday when they take on Andy McEntee’s Meath in Salthill ( 2pm ).
Galway will be hoping to bring their early season form to the table and continue their recent winning ways following a successful FBD campaign. However, Sunday’s game will be a different kettle of fish than the perfect football conditions they experienced in the NUI Galway Air Dome. The ground will be soft, the ball will not travel as well as it did indoors, and there is likely to be a swirling wind at play.
It is also now Allianz League Football with every team in the division fighting for their lives or for promotion to have a cut at the big dogs. It will be interesting to see if the Galway players can adjust quickly to their conditions and hit the ground running with a much desired victory.
The last time Galway played Meath was when Paul Conroy inspired victory in Navan in March 2020, the last game that was played before the pandemic called a halt to all sport. That came at a time when Galway were looking like real All-Ireland contenders with the quality of football they were playing. Hopefully Sunday’s game can show signs that Galway can be a genuine force again following two seasons of disappointment.
Joyce will be pleased with how the FBD campaign panned out. Winning the competition was a massive bonus, but he will have been delighted also to get some game time into certain players and to have had the opportunity to see some new faces.
Of the new faces to impress over the pre-season campaign, Conor Flaherty, Seán Fitzgerald, Tony Gill, Patrick Kelly and Owen Gallagher seemed to have benefitted the most. Flaherty will likely challenge for the number one position come championship with both Connor Gleeson and Bernard Power. Fitzgerald looked at home in the full back line versus both Mayo and Roscommon. Gil impressed on the ball versus Roscommon, but competition is stiff in the Galway half back line so it remains to be seen how much of a prominent role he will be given.
Both Kelly and Gallagher were excellent additions for the Roscommon game adding different dimensions to the Galway attack in terms of stature and pace respectively. It was also pleasing to see Robert Finnerty back to his best form following the bad injury which he suffered in last year’s Connacht final against Mayo in Croke Park. He will be a key player for Galway going forward to lighten the attacking burden on Damien Comer and Shane Walsh.
Meath’s pre-season was disrupted slightly by the cancellation of their opening O’Byrne cup fixture against Wicklow. Their form which followed was a 1-12 to 0-09 loss to Laois in the second round and a 1-15 to 1-10 victory over Wexford in round three. This indifferent form does not give much of an indication how Sunday will pan out, but Meath will always bring a hard intensity to their running game.
Centre forward Cillian O’Sullivan is at the heart of this approach and will take plenty of minding, as Joyce will be well aware of the havoc O’Sullivan wreaked in the Navan encounter in 2020. Corner forward James Conlon is also one to watch as he continued his impressive form from the 2021 championship into the O’Byrne Cup.
It will be a hard earned victory for whichever team prevails in this opening round of the division two Allianz League.