The Galway senior hurlers recorded an extremely facile win over a depleted Westmeath side on Saturday in Mullingar, with a first-half Conor Whelan hat-trick among the highlights of a 6-33 to 0-17 victory.
A win over Antrim on May 21 will ensure qualification to the All-Ireland series, but the reality is that Galway are on a quest to reclaim the Leinster title - and to reach the provincial final they will need to avoid defeat against Dublin in their final group game.
For the second week running Galway hit the teens in the number of players who registered scores (13 ), with Brian Concannon, Declan McLoughlin, and Kevin Cooney the other forwards to raise green flags. Henry Shefflin will no doubt be pleased his side is developing an eye for goal, but that Westmeath were missing key players, such as Killian Doyle and Niall Mitchell, certainly did not help their cause.
Giving valuable game time to Seán Linnane, Eoin Lawless, Jamie Ryan, Martin McManus, as well as McLoughlin, is a bonus. Fintan Burke made his first start of the year, while Cathal Mannion’s four points from play showed he is steadily finding match sharpness after his recent injury lay-off.
Micheál Donoghue’s Dublin side pulled off a noteworthy win over Wexford in Croke Park to move level on points with both Galway and Kilkenny and into the driving seat to make the top three, which would be a major achievement in Donoghue’s first year in charge. Donal Burke was again a driving force for Dublin as they eked out a two-point win.
Wexford can only wonder what might have been after hitting 19 wides, as Darragh Egan’s men are yet again faced with the task of beating Kilkenny when the final round comes around to have any chance of progressing.
Shefflin is fully aware Galway must keep improving as the week’s progress, that Kilkenny will be better when they potentially meet again, but the stiff challenges they face heading deeper into the campaign become acutely obvious when the cut and thrust of the Munster championship is compared to Leinster.
With the greatest of respect to both Westmeath and Antrim, Galway learn very little about their Liam McCarthy ambitions when taking on these teams. By contrast, Cork and Tipperary were putting everything on the line as they served up another classic encounter in Páirc Úi Chaoimh on Saturday.
At the end of a pulsating match the teams could not be separated on a 4-19 to 2-25 scoreline, leaving all five counties very much in the hunt with two fascinating rounds left to play.
Galway: E Murphy; D Morrissey, G McInerney, TJ Brennan; P Mannion (0-2 ), D Burke (0-2 ), F Burke; C Fahy (0-2 ), J Cooney; B Concannon (1-3 ), C Mannion (0-4 ), C Whelan (3-1 ); E Niland (0-10, 6fs, 1’65 ), K Cooney (1-2 ), L Collins (0-4 ).Subs: D McLoughlin (1-2 ) for Whelan (35 ), S Linnane (0-1 ) for J Cooney (43 ), E Lawless for D Burke (43 ), J Ryan (0-1 ) for Concannon (53 ), M McManus (0-1 ) for Collins (61 ).