Galway will need super display to beat Déise in U21 final

The Galway U21 hurlers, managed by Tony Ward and captained by Brian Molloy, will have it all to do this Saturday in the All-Ireland final when they take on a powerful and highly-fancied Waterford in Thurles (5pm ).

Waterford enjoyed a successful Munster championship campaign before making short work of Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final, winning on a facile scoreline of 5-25 to 1-8.

The spine of this Waterford U21 team is made up of senior stars, such as centre-back Austin Gleeson, midfielder Shane Bennett, and forwards Patrick Curran, Tom Devine and Stephen Bennett.

All those players will have felt gutted and unfulfilled by the manner of their defeat to Kilkenny, after a replay, in the All-Ireland senior semi-final a few weeks ago and they will be eyeing this game on Saturday as an ideal opportunity to collect a significant medal after a tough season.

However experienced Galway team manager Tony Ward is unconcerned by the hype focused on their opposition.

"We are staying as positive as we can in our camp and keeping the players away from any negativity about their chances, either inside or outside the county. We know for sure it will take a super effort and a massive performance from our lads to beat what some are calling the Dream Team," he says.

Ward was pleased with how his charges played in the semi-final, showing determination and belief to see off Dublin by 0-21 to 0-19 after extra-time.

"Our win over Dublin was the first All-Ireland semi-final win for Galway for a good few years and we will take a good bit of belief and positivity from that game," he says. "That win and 80 minutes of championship hurling was better than a week's training and it brought all the lads on a lot.

"We also used six subs in that game and that was a positive as we got to see a few more lads in championship action. And they all made contributions when they came on which was great to see. We will need our subs on Saturday to do likewise."

Conor Whelan still a doubt

One of the men who came off in that game injured was senior star Conor Whelan with a shoulder injury, and the Kinvara man is still a significant doubt for Saturday.

His injury is described by Ward as a "niggling one" but one that may still rule him out of action. While the starting 15 is due to be announced tonight (Thursday ), the management team is giving Whelan every opportunity to prove his fitness in the hopes he will have a role to play.

Tony Ward is enjoying his management role with the county U21s after many years of patrolling the sidelines with Galway camogie teams.

"We have all enjoyed the past few months and we are lucky to have a great group of lads who are really committed to Galway on the squad. It is great to see the panel progressing and lads improving as the year goes on.

"Management and hurling are like a drug. It is in the DNA and we would not do it unless we loved being involved. Saturday will be a huge test for us, but it is a challenge we are looking forward to, and one we have prepared well for."

If the Galway squad is going to make a mockery of the 11/2 outsiders rating with the money men, or even plus seven on the handicap, the players will need to produce big displays all over the field.

Players such as fullback Darragh O'Donoghue, centre-back Shane Cooney, last year's All-Ireland minor winning captain Seán Loftus, who was wing-back against Dublin, midfielders Daniel Nevin and Darragh Dolan, Thomas Monaghan, and team captain and free-taker Brian Molloy, will have to be in flying form on Saturday.

Whelan's availability would be a major plus too, but unless he is fully right, there is not much point in putting him out against Waterford defenders who would be perfectly within their rights to check out his injured shoulder at the first chance they get.

Dual star Eamon Brannigan did well on his introduction in the semi-final and his pace and strong physical presence offers options off the bench if he is not started.

Waterford are boiling hot favourites to win on Saturday (8/1 on ) and that expectation offers Galway an opportunity to try to exploit their possible over-confidence.

Anything less than a really top-class Galway display will not suffice.

However, there are no sure things in All-Ireland finals. The Galway hurling supporters will travel to Semple Stadium hoping to see their team win in what would be a colossal upset.

The winners of this year’s final will be the first to receive the new trophy, named after GAA president from 1901 to 1921 James Nowlan, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. It replaces the Cross of Cashel trophy which was retired last year.


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