The Galway senior footballers will know that in many regards their entire season is on the line this Saturday evening when they take on Tipperary at O’Connor Park (7pm ) in the qualifiers.
A win and they are among the last eight teams in the country left in the search for All-Ireland success. Plus, a victory would set up a very attractive date with Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park.
Lose, and there will be a lot of questions and soul searching as regards the progress being made.
Top level sport is that simple.
The winner takes it all, and the loser takes the brickbats.
It is a difficult game to call and the bookies have Galway as slight 10/11 favourites, with Tipperary at 11/10. The plausible result of a draw, is at 15/2.
A big positive for Alan Mulholland and his management team is that they are likley to have a full squad to pick from and the starting 15 are expected to be announced tonight after training.
There is unlikely to be any radical departure from the team that started against Mayo in the Connacht final, however if Mountbellew’s Joss Moore is fully recovered from injury he is highly likely to start in defence.
Up front there are probably only one or two positions up for decision and it will be interesting to see who will be picked at wing-forward, and if there is any change in the inside line.
For the number 12 slot there is a view that Damien Comer, who was replaced after an injury against Mayo, should be given the nod again.
James Kavanagh or Eddie Hoare could also be in contention for that jersey, especially if Seán Armstrong is given the start in the full-forward line.
Alan Mulholland is also a fan of John O’ Brien’s work-rate and ability to pick up breaks and he lined out at number 10 in last year’s four point win over the same opposition.
Regardless of which six players are selected up front for Saturday’s clash, Galway will need to be much more efficient and ruthless in front of goal than they were against Mayo, when they had far too many wides and some poor option taking, if they are to see off a rapidly improving and ambitious Tipp outfit.
Team manager Alan Mulholland is fully aware of the challenge that Peter Creedon’s men pose and his team will be taking nothing for granted. “We were hoping that we could have won a Connacht title against Mayo, however we have now reset our goals and we all want to get back to Croke Park. The winners this Saturday face Kerry in the quarter-finals and that is a really big prize.
“Tipperary seem to be playing with a lot of confidence and their forward line are racking up a lot of scores. We beat them by four points last year, but that won’t count for anything on Saturday and we will have to produce a really good performance to beat them.”
Defence must be tighter
For that to happen Mulholland and his selectors, Paul Clancy and Declan Meehan will be hoping that many of the defensive errors from the Connacht final will not be replicated this weekend.
Galway were caught out for three goals in that game and some of the defending was far too loose.
Mayo’s Lee Keegan raiding from wing-back caused massive problems all through that game and those kind of runs from deep will have to be tracked all over the field against a Tipp attack that are averaging two goals per game in their four championship games this season.
Tipp have some very exciting forwards in Conor Sweeney, Barry Grogan, Philip Austin, and Michael Quinlivan, and the Galway defence will have to be on red alert to keep them out.
Tipp have some genuine momentum, and are on the back of two good wins over Longford and Laois and they will be very hard to beat.
However, we in this parish are hopeful that team captain Paul Conroy, Shane Walsh, Gary O’ Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Tom Flynn, Michéal Lundy, and Finian Hanley can provide the leadership and inspiration to nurse Galway to a narrow win.
It will not be easy. However, as Alan Mulholland pointed out, the prize on offer is massive.
Hopefully a possible trip to Croke Park to face Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final should be a big enough incentive for the Galway footballers to produce a high intensity, hard-working, and winning performance.