At the outset of 2008 as Galway football entered a decisive new chapter, the Connacht FBD League was utilised intelligently. Liam Sammon's approach saw Galway embrace the challenges with the required passion and zeal to book the considerable bounty of a trip to New York that awaits the winners.
The early evidence this year suggests similar importance is being attached to producing committed early season performances. Under the bright Tourlestrane Saturday night lights a Galway team with a cocktail of youth and experience contained enough nous to triumph over Sligo by 0 - 14 to 0 - 12.
Benefiting from Declan Meehan and Joe Bergin's guidance, youngsters such as Jonathan Ryan, Martin Coady, JJ Greaney, and Damien O'Reilly all settled into senior action with the minimum of fuss. Kilkerrin/Clonberne's Ryan drilled over four points looking the part, while the Oughterard trio's promise is well documented. In a roving role Coady even managed to claim two key second-half scores during a spell in which Cormac Bane and Nicky Joyce were proving their ability.
Galway's next challenge in Ballinasloe on Saturday afternoon should be revealing too as Leitrim will be anxious to bounce back following a yellow-card laden defeat to a gritty GMIT.
Always plucky, Leitrim will give the maroons another stern examination. With each passing week Galway should become stronger too as players return to the fold, and Sammon is emphasising the importance of the Allianz NFL February 1 opener at Mullingar against Westmeath.
"It is early days yet and we still have some guys to come back into the panel for the Leitrim game. For the next while we will be without some of the lads who are involved with the college teams in the competition and the Corofin players too.
"We would like to do well in the league and it is crucial to start well. It will be a very tough game for us in Westmeath and hopefully these games in the FBD will bring us on a bit.
"It certainly was good to get the year off to a good start, particularly because we are only starting out. A lot of guys wouldn't have the fitness yet and would be a little ring rusty. It was very pleasing to see the younger players do so well and I think every one of them did very well.
"We had a lot of under 21s there and it is great that they are able to see what is required at this level. That is a good thing for everyone because we have a good handle then on what is available to us too, and going forward that is vital. For them it gives them a sample of what is required to be involved with a senior squad."
With Mickey Moran and John Morrisson patrolling the line, Leitrim will not be short on motivation either.
Twenty miles away in Kiltoom the following day Roscommon host Sigerson Cup contenders NUIG in a game that could determine who tops Group A. Roscommon, under Fergal O'Donnell, annihilated Sligo IT in Boyle, but they face an NUIG team that looked competent when defeating Mayo at Dangan by 2-10 to 1-8 last weekend.
NUIG achieved that success playing a tidy brand of football, and while several panellists were missing, manager Eoin O'Donnellan is adamant that unity is needed.
"It is important we continue to work together as a team. All of the guys who were missing are individually good players, but it is important we continue to play as a team, and the more matches we play before the Sigerson the better.
“Last year we were a bit lucky to beat Mayo, but I felt we played quite well this time around. The focus is the first week of February when we will play the winners of St Mary's Belfast or Carlow IT in the Sigerson. These FBD matches are great for us because obviously they are highly competitive. We have Roscommon next, then we have Sligo IT, so it is brilliant to have competitive games.”
Though deprived of Eddie Hoare, Matthew Clancy, Conor Healy, Sean Armstrong, and Paul Broderick among others, NUIG's depth was apparent in Dangan. When referee Declan Hunt blasted the full-time whistle the five point buffer that separated the teams accurately reflected a game that belonged to Gareth Bradshaw. So impressive for Galway in 2008 Bradshaw's bearing on this NUIG win was significant. Bradshaw, showing an understanding of how to mop up loose ball also stole forward when the opportunity was on driving NUIG to a merited victory.
Two goals from Cathal McHugh and Conor Devanney set up the students for a 2-4 to 1-3 half-time lead,
GMIT also enjoyed a fruitful start when overcoming Leitrim in a dramatic clash at Tuam, and they will be intent on claiming another scalp this Sunday when Sligo visit Dunmore.
GMIT staged a remarkable late rally at Tuam Stadium. Though trailing 0-7 to 0-4 at the end of the opening period to an Emlyn Mulligan-inspired Leitrim, GMIT clawed their way back. In the dying embers Donie Shine, who ended with a substantial personal haul of 1-6, crashed a penalty before striking a late point that ensured GMIT recorded a heartening result.
With Paul Conroy, Aidan Campbell, Stephen Kavanagh, Michael Martin, and Shine all involved, GMIT possess the potential now to threaten Sligo, who crave a positive result.
Connacht FBD League fixtures:
Saturday January 10: Group B, Galway v Leitrim ( Ballinasloe 2pm ); Sunday January 11: Group A, Roscommon v NUIG (Kiltoom 2pm ); Group B, GMIT v Sligo (Dunmore 2pm ).