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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 29 February, 2020

Are Galway's hurlers the real deal or will they fall flat again?

Sunday’s Leinster final against Kilkenny will tell us more about Galway’s championship credentials.

Galway boss Anthony Cunningham is targeting Leinster and All-Ireland hurling glory.
Galway boss Anthony Cunningham is targeting Leinster and All-Ireland hurling glory.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JOE CONNOLLY MIGHT have jumped the gun when he suggested that there was a ‘lack of hope’ in Galway hurling before this year’s championship.

But Galway’s 1980 All-Ireland winning captain had a point and is well-qualified to make such a statement.

After all, it’s almost 27 years since Galway last lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup and while they have gone close on a few occasions since, a maddening inconsistency has been the order of the day for the most part.

After scuttling Kilkenny in the 2001 and 2005 All-Ireland semi-finals, the Tribesmen couldn’t follow up with final glory, losing to Tipperary and Cork respectively.

There’s usually one good game, and sometimes two, in Galway on any given season but they haven’t shown enough in recent times to suggest that the famine will end any time soon. Until now, that is.

Paddy O'Brien and Eoin Kelly Tipperary pair Paddy O'Brien and Eoin Kelly celebrate victory over Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland final. Source: INPHO

With 8-47 in their last two championship outings, Galway are on a roll.

They blitzed a fancied Dublin outfit with devastating ease in a Leinster quarter-final replay before opening up Laois in the semi-final.

Galway might have taken a while to click into something approaching top gear against Laois but they were patient, sizing up the O’Moore men before going about their business in clinical fashion.

A lucky first goal helped them along the way but once Galway got a run on the opposition, they proved impossible to stop.

The winning margin was 20 points, compared to just two when the teams met last year.

Taking into account that Laois had made further progress, as evidenced by their victory over Offaly, Galway have moved on too.

Joe Canning scores a goal Joe Canning is in devastating form this summer. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

They didn’t set the world alight in the Allianz League, far from it, but on fast ground the Westerners are capable of hurting any opponent.

Joe Canning is in wonderful form and seems to be hurling with a chip on his shoulder.

Canning presumably realises that time is running out as he aims to avoid the ‘one of the best players never to win an All-Ireland senior medal’ tag.

What’s helping too is the emergence of Cathal Mannion as a forward of real substance. Jason Flynn was flying too against Dublin before a broken finger ruled him out of the Laois game.

Cyril Donnellan is back to something approaching his robust best in 2012 and optimism is sweeping the county ahead of next Sunday’s Leinster final.

Source: HurlingGoals/YouTube

Mannion’s brother Padraig is a real gem in defence and nullified the impact of Mark Schutte in the rematch. At centre back, Iarla Tannian is hurling with assurance in a position that has caused Galway problems for years.

It’s only three years since Tannian, operating at midfield then, was man of the match in the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.

Galway’s starting team against Laois last time out featured seven survivors, including Tannian, from the 2012 defeat to Kilkenny – Johnny Coen, David Collins, Andy Smith, David Burke, Donnellan and Canning the others.

That’s a pretty normal rate of attrition but core players like Canning, Tannian, Collins, Smith and Donnellan are real leaders now.

That level of experience is invaluable to manager Anthony Cunningham and it’s no harm either that he’s still involved.

Anthony Cunningham Anthony Cunningham is enjoying his fourth season in charge of Galway's senior hurlers. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The trend in Galway over the past 20 years has been to chop and change managers with alarming regularity.

But Cunningham’s persistence and insistence that he wanted to stay and finish the job he started when he took charge in October 2011.

In his fourth full season at the helm, Cunningham is desperate to deliver the All-Ireland title that Galway crave, and believes that he now has the personnel at his disposal to do it.

Galway have a strong starting 15 but they also have a good bench to call upon.

Former underage star Padraig Brehony, Joseph Cooney, Gearoid McInerney, Fergal Moore and Davy Glennon all on as subs against Laois, with Glennon scoring 1-2.

Throw the returning Flynn into the mix and Cunningham is now working with a core group of 20-22 players that he feels can do a job at any given time.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

The acid test arrives on Sunday against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Will Mannion get the space he revels in against Paul Murphy or Jackie Tyrrell? Can Kilkenny full-back Joey Holden keep tabs on Canning? How will Tannian fare against a roving Richie Hogan?

These are key questions that Cunningham will want answers to and we’ll know whether or not Galway have truly arrived as contenders when the dust settles at Croke Park.

Question marks still hover over their full-back line, as Schutte gave Johnny Coen a stern examination in the drawn Dublin game.

How Cunningham sets this line up against Kilkenny will be interesting as the Cats inside trio of TJ Reid (presuming he starts at full-forward), Ger Aylward and Eoin Larkin will fancy their chances of making hay.

Joey Holden Kilkenny full-back Joey Holden will have his hands full with Joe Canning on Sunday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Galway will be kept on their toes against a Kilkenny attack that is more than capable of interchanging. It could be Reid one minute, Richie Hogan the next, but it’s the type of challenge that Cunningham and his players must relish if they wish to take the next step.

Galway have already shown that they are capable of matching Kilkenny and in the 2012 provincial final, they produced a fine display to down the Cats.

If they do it again, we can start talking about Galway in even more positive terms. 

We’ll know more around 5.30pm on Sunday.

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