This Sunday in Croke Park (3.30pm ) Galway will try might and main to advance to their first all-Ireland senior hurling final in seven years.
Anthony Cunningham’s men are 2/1 on in the bookies to face either Kilkenny or Tipperary in September. However, there will be no over-confidence or lack of readiness for the battle in the Galway camp as they know that in Cork they face wily and experienced opponents, with a top class manager in Jimmy Barry Murphy back in situ. Indeed, the last time that Galway were in the All-Ireland final in 2005, their opponents were Cork, and the Rebels won by five points on a score-line of 1-21 to 1-16.
Liam Donoghue was the Galway team captain that day, and the half forward line was Richie Murray, David Forde and Alan Kerins, with Fergal Healy and David Tierney at midfield. Only three of the Galway starting 15 from that final are likely to start this weekend, Tony Óg Regan, David Collins and Damien Hayes being the only survivors. No doubt those guys will let the younger brigade know that they will have to be on red alert to see off the blood and bandage boys.
Galway defeated Cork easily enough in last year’s phase three qualifier game in the Gaelic Grounds on a score-line of 2-23 to 1-14, but a lot has changed since then and both teams are radically different with two new management teams in charge.
Experienced Galway defender Tony Óg Regan expects Sunday to be a really tough encounter and the Rahoon/Newcastle man insists that the team are on their guard for Sunday’s clash. “We know there is a huge challenge in front of us and we will need to produce a top class display and have a huge work-rate and intensity if we are to win. It is a 50/50 game in my view. If you look at any of the championship matches so far this year, there were no two games alike. This weekend will be the same. It will just come down to who performs better on the day. Past performances count for very little in All-Ireland semi-finals.”
Regan is also very conscious of how Cork performed against Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter final. “Cork beat Waterford by three points, a team we have failed to beat over the last three or four years – and they (Waterford ) gave us a good trimming last year. Cork are definitely on an upward curve and we are going to have to play extremely well to get the better of them. You have to prepare very well and give respect to every individual and team you are up against. If you are a bit off on any given day, you will get blown out of it and that has happened us in the past. We are determined to make the most of Sunday and we be giving it our absolute best shot.”
Meanwhile, Cork manager JBM, while conceding that his team are rank outsiders, still gives his charges a right chance of causing an upset this weekend. "We are very realistic and know that of the four teams left we are the rank outsiders. However, we feel that we can work very, very hard to bridge the perceived gap and be a match for any team. We are where we wanted to be and I am not a bit shocked that we are in a semi-final. On any given day, the teams under the top three are of a standard and we would hope that the win against Waterford would bring us on another bit to be able to match Galway.
“I’m an optimistic person by nature. Cork going to Croke Park, we'll always feel that we have a chance. Of all the teams left, we are still the outsiders to go on and win the title but that doesn't worry me in the slightest."