Let the games begin for Galway hurlers

The John McIntyre era commences at O'Connor Park on Sunday when Galway make the short trip to Tullamore for a Walsh Cup clash with Offaly.

Injuries and college commitments ensure Galway will be forced to field an experimental team as preparations continue for the high profile Allianz NHL combat with Kilkenny at Pearse Stadium on February 8.

Still, while the year is in its infancy, Galway are currently readying themselves for the examinations that will be sat in spring during an exacting league adventure. McIntrye's efficiency means few things will be left to chance and the Walsh Cup offers an opportunity to make an impression for panel members eager to showcase their talents.

McInytre and his interesting selection committee of John Moylan, John Hardiman, and Joe Connolly all have a weighty knowledge of the local club scene and have stated that any hurlers impressing in that arena will be considered as 2009 progresses. However missing from the panel will be John Lee who has opted out. Lee, Galway's centre half back over the past two years, will concentrate on his medical studies at NUIG for the foreseeable future, and McIntrye must hold auditions for the role now with the versatile Shane Kavanagh being the probable replacement.

Every sporting journey starts with a first step, and while there won't be too much fuss or fanfare, Galway enter Leinster competition next Sunday. It will be a quietly historic moment.

Galway defeated Portumna in a tight challenge match last weekend at Athenry as Brian Mahony, recalled to the county fold, fractured his collarbone. Mahony could miss up to six weeks’ hurling. Other absentees include goalkeeper James Skehill and Joe Canning, who played for Limerick IT in the Waterford Crystal hurling tournament.

Opponents Offaly will also be understrength with Brian Carroll, Michael Verney, and Sean Ryan unavailable. There is an inevitability that teams will not be able to choose from the full complement, but this provides a chance for others.

While Galway will be without several prominent players there still should be a rich core of experience in the starting XV. Adrian Cullinane, Richie Murray, Shane Kavanagh, Niall Healy, and Ger Farragher are all likely to be involved, while David Tierney may also be given a spin on his return to the panel. Others with potential will be intent on delivering too, Bernard Burke, a capable contributor to minor teams over the past few years, has the aggression and ability to make an impact in the coming months.

In the Portumna game Galway fielded Damien McClearn at full-back with Ciaran O'Donovan and Andy Coen also part of a revamped defence. Elsewhere Joe Gantley and Mark Kerins offered capable options in the half forward line.

Few things will be determined in Tullamore, but Galway should embrace the task with the relish and respect that usually arrives when a new manager takes over. McIntyre intends to have Galway primed for summer battles, and defeating Offaly would provide a dollop of confidence.

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