This Sunday’s Connacht semi-final between Galway and Sligo at Markievicz Park has a classic “hot favourites v massive outsiders” feel to it, and is in truth a potential banana skin for Galway.
Galway are 2/11 in the bookies, whereas Sligo represent reasonable value at 9/2.
When I asked former Galway star and current Sligo manager Kevin Walsh what he thought of his team being available at such odds? He smiled and replied; “There’re about right.”
The triple all-star winner goes on to explain why: “We played in Division Four this spring and Galway were in Division One and there is a massive difference in standard between those divisions. Just look at what Mayo did to Roscommon, who are a Division Three team, last weekend. So we know we face a massive test next Sunday.”
That said, Walsh is very pleased with how things have been going in the Yeats county, and promotion from Division 4 which was his top priority has been achieved. “We were delighted to get promoted and now my hope is that the lads do themselves justice next Sunday. They have lots of work put in and hopefully they will show what they can do. If we get beaten, so be it. Once the players and team as a whole can walk off the field and say that they gave it everything they had, that is the main thing. You cannot ask for any more than that as a manager. They should have no fear of Galway as seven or eight of them played in the 2007 Connacht final win up in Hyde Park. That success will give them confidence that they can produce another shock this Sunday.”
Liam Sammon’s view
Galway manager Liam Sammon took a very pragmatic view of things when I spoke to him on Wednesday. He and his panel are on red alert and he is very aware of the danger that exists this weekend for his championship aspirations.
“It is never easy down in Sligo. We have been turned over there many times and they beat us down there back in 1975 and went on to win the Connacht championship, so I am well aware of the danger they pose this weekend. You see it every weekend in championship, any team that goes out and plays with hunger, fight, ability, and passion are exceedingly difficult to beat. Anything can happen in a championship game and unless we approach this game in the right frame of mind and with our attitude 100 per-cent right, we will be in trouble. I know that, and the players know it too.”
Galway have been hit with some injuries to men like Damien Dunleavy, Fiachra Breathnach, and Alan Burke, but Sammon is still hopeful that he has enough players to pass this test.
“Paul Conroy, Declan Meehan, Sean Armstrong, and Gary O’Donnell are all going well and Kieran Fitzgerald is coming back to full fitness again which is a plus. We know we have a huge task ahead of us on Sunday and it will take a top quality performance from our entire side to get back to another Connacht final. Championship games are never easily won and I don’t expect this one to be any different.”
Bottom line for Sunday
Sligo will be very well organised and highly motivated under Kevin Walsh’s guidance. They will have garnered a lot of self-belief and momentum from their success in winning the league title in Division 4.
Home advantage is a major plus for them too and in forwards like Kenneth Sweeney, David Kelly, Mark Brehony, Sean Davey, Eamonn O’Hara, and Alan Costello they have players to ask plenty of questions of the Galway rearguard. The Sligo full-back line of Charlie Harrison, 2007 captain Noel McGuire, and Ross Donovan are no slouches and are a very experienced trio who will be very difficult to break down. Despite those health warnings, I would still expect Galway to advance, but only after a major battle and not by a huge margin. In fact Sligo +5 at 10/11 looks quite a reasonable bet and should be worth a punt.
Around the country
Westmeath looked abysmal against Wicklow the last day out and Dublin are massive favourites to beat them in Croke Park on Sunday, 1/7 if you really fancy the blues. Westmeath are 10/11 at +6 and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they could cover that handicap. In the corresponding fixture last year it ended Dublin 0-13, Westmeath 1-8. That game is live on TV3.
On Saturday evening Kildare take on Laois in Tullamore and they will be expected to jump that fence. They are local rivals and it should be close, however Kildare seem the more settled team and should come through. Finally in the surprise semi-final up in Clones, Cavan should shade it against Antrim who will be on a high after their recent success over Donegal.