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5 big questions for Galway ahead of today's Connacht SFC final

Is the full-back line vulnerable, will they go long from kick-outs and who’ll take the frees in Armstrong’s absence?

IT’S CONNACHT SFC final day and for the second straight year, Mayo are not involved. The last time they failed to reach a provincial decider two years in-a-row was back in 1978, when Galway and Roscommon met in their third successive year. 

Galway players stand together for the national anthem Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Tribesmen and the Rossies renew their acquaintances once again today, and there’s every chance we’re in for a cagey, defensive affair. 

Fresh from their promotion to Division 1 and their second championship victory over Mayo in as many years, Galway have been tipped as potential challengers for the Sam Maguire in the coming years.

Let’s take a look at some questions surrounding Kevin Walsh’s side.

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Conor Sweeney scores his sides third goal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Was last year’s quarter-final hammering by Tipperary a one-off?

All the evidence since last August suggests that Galway’s no-show in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final was an one-off aberration. Since then their record in 2017 reads: Played 9, Won 7, Drawn 1, Lost 1.

Galway’s only loss of 2016 arrived in their 1-13 to 0-15 reversal to Meath on 5 March. They’ve achieved some significant milestones along the way so far this year and the team is fast gaining experience.

Walsh’s men won the county’s first football game at Croke Park since 2001, secured promotion back to the top flight of the league, collected the Division 2 title on the way and beating Mayo in Salthill for the first time in 10 years.

Declan Kyne and Andy Moran Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Is the Galway full-back line vulnerable?

Since he took charge, Walsh has employed a structured system which aims to keep things tight at the back first and foremost. Last season they regularly dropped 13 men behind their own 45 when they lost possession, while at different stages in 2017 they’ve looked willing to put the press on slightly higher up the field.

Against Mayo, Galway dropped bodies back across the half-back line but left two v two in their full-back line. Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor looked dangerous with space inside, but once Mayo lost Keith Higgins it scuppered that plan of attack as Galway had a spare defender.

During the league Galway conceded an average of 15 points per game and they shipped 1-11 tally against Mayo despite playing over 35 minutes against 14 men. The Rossies are likely to employ Niall Kilroy as a sweeper with Diarmuid and Ciaran Murtagh expected to be their inside forwards. The Tribe’s ability to deal with that dangerous duo will tell a lot about their defensive capabilities going forward.

Gary Sice Gary Sice starts on the bench today Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Who’ll take the frees?

Sean Armstrong’s absence through injury throws up an interesting question: Who’ll take the frees for them today? Fortunately, Galway are a side blessed with accurate dead ball shooters.

Gary Sice and Barry McHugh, who also took frees for them during different stages during the league, have also failed to make the starting 15. Shane Walsh will likely hit the close-range frees against Roscommon today, with Paul Conroy a candidate to shoot from further out the field.

Thomas Flynn and Donal Shine Thomas Flynn and Donal Shine contest a kick-out during the drawn 2016 Connacht final Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. Will they go long from kick-outs?

Ruairi Lavelle’s dogged persistence in playing his kick-outs short the last day out almost cost Galway as Mayo came with a fingertip of intercepting on a couple of occasions.

It’s likely Galway were spooked by Mayo’s strength in midfield and were instructed to go short each time, but Roscommon should post no such threat at centre-field.

The presence of skyscrapers Fiontan Ó Curraoin, Paul Conroy and Thomas Flynn in the middle sector on Sunday means Lavelle would be well advised to hit the middle third with his restarts today. Particularly as they are up against the inexperienced duo of Tadgh O’Rourke and Cathal Compton.

Roscommon lost the ‘mark’ battle to Leitrim in their semi-final by 9-3, meaning it’s an area Galway should be targeting.

Johnny Heaney and Sean McDermott Source: James Crombie/INPHO

5. Are they ready to make the leap?

Galway, along with Kildare, have been painted as the counties most likely to break into Gaelic football’s top tier over the coming years. Attacking talents like Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and, potentially, Michael Daly have the ability to win All-Stars in the future, while Ó Curraoin and Flynn could become a dominant midfield pair for years to come.

The half-back line of Gary O’Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw and Liam Silke has the dynamism and ball playing ability required to compete at the top, but their full-back line and goalkeeper have yet to prove they belong at this level. Perhaps they’ll do so today.

Kevin Walsh has taken a cautious approach with this team, leaving riches like Michael Lundy, Gary Sice, Danny Cummins, Barry McHugh and even Michael Meehan on the line in order to keep his team defensively sound. It gives The Tribesmen impact players off the bench that few other counties can match.

The worry for Galway is that almost one third of their scores against Mayo came through long, direct ball into Comer. If the bigger sides snuff out his threat, can Shane Walsh – whose shooting often blows hot and cold – Eamonn Brannigan and Daly carry the can in front of goal?

There’s also a concern that Galway’s defensive set-up will not work as well against the elite teams, who have become accustomed to breaking down packed defences. That’s an argument for another day. They should have enough in the tank to beat the Rossies by four or five today.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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