The Galway hurlers will face the defending league champions Dublin on Sunday in the opening round of the Allianz Hurling League 2012 at 2.30pm in Pearse Stadium.
Unfortunately Galway will be without their top-scoring forward and free-taker, Joe Canning, who dislocated his shoulder playing in the Fitzgibbon Cup on Tuesday.
Even with the Portumna ace, Galway would still have it all to do as Dublin, under Anthony Daly, are an improving entity. They enjoyed their best league campaign since 1939 last season when they won the title after a superb campaign, beating Kilkenny in the final at Croke Park.
Galway team selector Mattie Kenny is both philosophical and logical about the task that faces the hurling squad in the upcoming league.
“We have a very young squad and our objective over the next year or two at this grade is to develop and improve the hurlers who play senior hurling for the county,” he says.
“ We have introduced a lot of new faces and 18 of last year’s u-21s are on the senior panel currently. They are all very talented hurlers with lots of potential. However the transition from minor and u-21 to senior inter-county hurling is a big step and they must be given time to take that step.
“The management team knows this will be a building and learning process and the league will play a very big role in that. We will be looking for positive performances as we try to blood some of the younger lads and try to build a team for the championship. Winning games provides everyone with a boost and gives the panel momentum, but we are realistic about where we are at the moment.”
Galway’s injury situation took a dramatic twist for the worst during the week with the news that Joe Canning is likely to be out for four weeks after dislocating his shoulder in a Fitzgibbon Cup game with Limerick IT against GMIT on Tuesday.
Already out for Sunday are midfielder Andy Smith with a broken finger and Kevin Hynes with a shoulder injury. Canning, who won All-Stars at full-forward in 2008 and 2009, is a huge loss to the side for both his leadership and scoring ability. The Portumna man had been in good form over the past few weeks and looked to be both lean and fit.
His probable absence for the first three or four league games is a blow. That said, his absence will put the onus on the likes of Iarla Tannian and Damien Hayes to lead the forward line and provide direction to their younger colleagues.
The starting 15 to face Dublin is due to be announced tonight (Thursday ) after training.
Looking at the bigger picture
Mattie Kenny, Tom Helebert and team manager Anthony Cunningham and are not looking past Sunday’s league encounter with Dublin. While they would be delighted to get their league campaign off to a winning start, they are looking at the bigger picture and taking a long-term view.
“Of course we would like to get a win this Sunday,” says Kenny. “That is what we will be aiming to do. And it would be great to see lots of Galway hurling supporters come out and support the side in their first league game of the year. However, our longer term strategy is to try to improve and develop every hurler on the panel physically, mentally, and hurling wise. That will take time, hard work and patience.
“This Sunday against Dublin is a start on that road, but we are in a transition phase and everyone in Galway hurling has to look at the bigger picture - which is to develop this team over the next few years into a top-quality side capable of challenging for the top honours in the game.”