Galway are fancied by most of the national media and pundits to defeat Sligo this Sunday in Pearse Stadium (2pm ) and go on and win the Connacht title. However, it is not a sure bet, as Sligo will be coming to Galway full of confidence and belief, expecting victory.
Momentum is most definitely with Sligo. They are on the back of a fine run of outings including the division three final over Antrim and their impressive win over Mayo in the Connacht Championship.
They have been promoted for the past two seasons from division four up to division two and that incremental progress and winning habit will leave them with a well of self-belief when the game gets tight next Sunday.
Their team has evolved fantastically under the guidance of Kevin Walsh and is a better side now than the one that went out narrowly to Liam Sammon’s team in last year’s championship.
Tony Taylor and Stephen Gilmartin have blended into a solid midfield partnership and their battle with Joe Bergin and Paul Doherty will be critical.
Sligo’s corner backs Charlie Harrison and Ross Donovan are terrific players and both Johnny Davey and Keenan Cawley really caught the eye against Mayo with their ability to win breaking ball and their sallies up the field. They need to be pegged back.
Up front David Kelly is a marvellous corner forward and Eamonn O’Hara and Alan Costello work well in the half-forward line - indeed O’Hara is often given a licence to roam and if he could be stopped in his tracks a few times, it would be a big dent to the Yeats men’s ambitions.
Galway will need to be extremely disciplined at the back too as Mark Brehony is a quality freetaker who is not afraid of pressure kicks.
The Galway team was not announced at the time of going to print, but it is expected to be along very similar lines to their two recent challenges against Offaly and Louth and the trial game held in Pearse Stadium last Sunday.
Alan Burke is expected to be given the onerous task of man-marking Kelly, while Kieran Fitzgerald will pick up the other corner forward with Finian Hanley in the number three jersey. Kevin Walsh is likely though to move Kelly into the edge of the square too at some stage in the game to see if his lightning pace could unsettle Finian.
The Galway forward division is set to include Padraic Joyce, Sean Armstrong and Gary Sice. The other positions will be taken up by a combination of players such as Fiachra Breathnach, Owen Concannon, Matt Clancy, Cormac Bane or Nicky Joyce, if he is available to play. The Killererin man could not train last Sunday and there are rumours in the county that he has suffered a knee injury that may keep him out of action.
The game has probably come a week too early for Michael Meehan, although he may be in a position to come in off the bench if required. In an ideal world that scenario should be avoided as it would be better to get some game time under his belt before going straight back into inter-county action. However if the fat is in the fire going into the third quarter, Kernan may have to throw Meehan into the frame and see if he could pick up where he left off in the league.
One advantage that Galway have is that the entire panel and management team will know they face a huge battle of will and skill if they are to advance to meet Roscommon in the Connacht final. Sligo liked the taste of their provincial success in 2007 and they want more of that feeling.
Galway will have to increase the tempo and work-rate enormously from what they showed in their first game against New York which they won 2-13 to 0-12.
The intervening eight weeks should have brought about a vast improvement from that performance and Kernan will be hopeful the hard work in Loughgeorge will bear fruit.
It is a very difficult game to call. Don’t expect much between these sides at the finish.
Galway will need Padraic Joyce to do the business for them once again and I would not expect Walsh to put Noel McGuire, who was given a torrid time by Alan Freeman, marking Joyce. Either Harrison or Donovan may pick him up.
Unless Joyce, Armstrong and Meehan, if he can play, produce the scores for Galway, they will be in trouble.
Unless Galway can really produce a really top-class performance, then a Sligo win is a distinct possibility.