It will take the loyal Galway supporters from the last 20 years a few moments to re-adjust their hard drive at Markievicz Park in Sligo this Sunday when they see one of the finest footballers of his generation, Kevin Walsh, marshalling the opposition in championship football.
It was one thing to know that Big Kevin was in charge of Sligo and that they would face Galway on June 28 in the Connacht championship semi-final. It is another to face that reality.
This Connacht semi-final has the classic “massive outsiders v hot favourites” feel to it and is a potential banana skin for Galway.
Galway are 2/11 in the bookies, whereas Sligo represent good value at 9/2.
When I asked the current Sligo manager what he thinks of his team being available at such odds, he says: “There’re about right”.
The Killanin man explain.“We played in division 4 this spring and Galway were in division 1 and there is a massive difference in standard between those divisions. We all saw what Mayo did to Roscommon, who are a division 3 team last weekend, so we know we face a tough test next Sunday.”
That said, Walsh is pleased how things have been going in the Yeat’s county. Promotion from division 4 was his top priority.
“We were very pleased to get promotion and now my hope is that the lads do themselves justice next Sunday. They have lots of work put in and hopefully they will show what they can do.
“If we get beaten, so be it. Once the players and team as a whole can walk off the field and say they gave it everything they had, that is the main thing. You cannot ask for any more than that as a manager.
“They should have no fear of Galway as seven or eight of them played in the 2007 win in Hyde Park. That success will give them confidence that they can produce another shock this Sunday.”
Walsh is not too pleased with the GAA fixture list as Sligo is the last team in the country to play championship football in 2009.
“We have not played real competitive football for 11 weeks since the division 4 league final and that makes it difficult to judge how a team is going. Galway have the advantage of their run-out against London and they will have learnt something from that game.”
Walsh believes both counties have different aspirations for the coming months;
“Galway will have aspirations of getting to an All-Ireland semi-final or final whereas our objective is to win a Connacht Championship game. We are looking forward to the game and all we want is that the panel turns up on Sunday and does what they are
supposed to do. We will have to increase the intensity enormously from the standard that we played at in
division 4, but that is the challenge and one we are looking forward to.”
Liam Sammon’s view
Galway manager Liam Sammon is taking a pragmatic view. He is on red alert and is very aware of the danger that exists next Sunday for his team.
“It is never easy down in Sligo. We have been turned over there many times and they beat us down there back in 1975 and went on to win the Connacht championship, so I am well aware of the risk they pose this weekend.
“You see it every weekend in championship. The team that goes out and plays with hunger, fight, ability, and passion is exceedingly difficult to beat. Anything can happen in a championship game and unless we approach this game in the right frame of mind and with our attitude 100 per cent right, we will be in trouble. I know that, and the players know it too.”
Galway’s preparations have been troubled with injury and Niall Coleman’s recent bereavement.
“Damien Dunleavy (groin ), Fiachra Breathnach (groin ) and Alan Burke (ankle ) are all out and they are all big losses. Niall Coleman, who has been playing really well for his club and with us, may not be available after the terrible tragedy his family suffered recently. It would be ideal if we had everyone fit and ready for action, but that is not the case.
“On the positive side Paul Conroy, Declan Meehan, Sean Armstrong, and Gary O’Donnell are all going well and Kieran Fitzgerald is coming back to full fitness again which is a big plus. We know we have a huge task ahead of us on Sunday and it will take a top quality performance from our entire side to get back to another Connacht final.
“Championship games are never easily won and I don’t expect this one to be any different.”
Ray Silke’s view
I would expect Sligo to be well organised and highly motivated under Kevin Walsh’s guidance. They will have garnered a lot of self-belief and momentum from their success in winning the league title in division 4 in a final in which they beat Antrim, who beat Donegal recently in the Ulster championship.
They have nothing to fear, everything to gain, and very little to lose, as they are expected to be beaten by the vast majority of people already.
Home advantage is a major plus for them too and in forwards like Kenneth Sweeney, David Kelly, Mark Brehony, Sean Davey, Eamonn O’Hara, and Alan Costello, they have players to ask plenty of questions of the Galway rearguard.
Assuming the Galway midfield of perhaps Paul Conroy and Gary O’ Donnell, with Joe Bergin drifting out from wing-forward, can get the better of Tony Taylor and Eugene Mullen, and provide plenty of possession, then the Galway forward division of Michael Meehan, Padraig Joyce, and Sean Armstrong should have too much scoring power for the Sligo rearguard.
However one note of caution, the Sligo full-back line of Charlie Harrison, 2007 captain Noel McGuire, and Ross Donovan are no slouches and are a very experienced trio who will be very difficult to break down.
Despite those health warnings, you would still expect Galway to advance, but only after a major battle and not by a huge margin.
In fact Sligo +5 at 10/11 looks quite a reasonable bet and could come good.
Both teams have different managers and some new personnel, but let’s not forget that Sligo beat Galway 1-10 to 0-12 in the Connacht final less than two years ago in a game in which Michael Meehan, Cormac Bane, and Diarmuid Blake were all substituted.
That recent defeat alone should provide Galway with sufficient motivation to go to Markievicz and do a professional job and come home with a ticket for the Connacht final.
*The game is live on RTE2 at 2pm