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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018

'They're All-Ireland champions and we haven't seen them live yet': Galway to step out of the shadows

They face Limerick in a promotion showdown on Sunday in their first nationally televised game since last September.

WE’RE OVER A month into the new season and there’s hardly been a peep out of the Galway hurling camp.

Micheal Donoghue Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

While their fellow All-Ireland contenders have been busy shadow-boxing on the Division 1A highway, Micheal Donoghue’s side have gently felt their way into the season on the back roads of the second tier.

Antrim, Laois, Offaly and Dublin were all seen off with varying degrees of ease by a combined total of 17 points and the Tribesmen’s low-key campaign to date has barely registered a mention on RTÉ’s weekly highlights show.

This time last year, Tipperary were storming through the league and being talked up as a team capable of dominating the hurling landscape. They hit a speed bump in the league final in April and it took them months to recover.

Donoghue no doubt took note of the hysteria surrounding Tipperary for the early part of the 2017 season. The Galway boss mirrors Jim Gavin in his desire to crush any hype surrounding his team and he couldn’t have written a better post-All-Ireland script if he’d tried.

Both of last year’s All-Ireland finalists only returned from their team holiday to Cancun and New York in the first week of January, but as Waterford were enduring the psychological blow of three straight defeats to open up their league campaign, Galway enjoyed a more serene start to the season.

It was a busy off-season for the champions, who also competed in the Super 11s tournament in Boston last November. Lifting the All-Ireland inevitably meant there were several school visits and social events to attend over the winter months.

Galway players take to the field Source: Emily Harney/INPHO

But biggest story line surrounding Galway in the last few months was Munster’s supposed bid to poach strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein from Donoghue’s backroom team. Just over 24 hours after the news of Munster’s interest in the Polish trainer broke, Galway quashed the rumours by tying Kirszenstein down to a long-term deal.

On the field, Donoghue has been preparing for the new round-robin provincial structures by blooding several youngsters as he assesses the depth of his squad.

Eight newcomers arrived into the panel in the off-season and six of them have featured so far in the league - Sean Linnane, Brian Concannon, Kevin McHugo, Jack Coyne, Shane Bannon and Shane Cooney.

“We have to use the league to give the younger lads and new lads on the panel an opportunity,” the Tribe manager said after they beat Offaly in round 3.

“For the remainder of the league we are going to continue to do that. When they get the opportunity they have to take it.”

In total, Donoghue has fielded 30 players over the four league games with several fringe panelists from 2017 being given extended runs in the team. Galway have generally started with eight or nine members of their All-Ireland winning team and filled the other positions with rookies.

Shane Cooney Galway's Shane Cooney in action against Dublin Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

One experienced member of the Tribe attack has put up a big score in each of their league outings to date. Conor Cooney dispatched 0-6 against Antrim, Conor Whelan took Laois for 2-1, Joseph Cooney bagged 2-1 against Offaly and Jason Flynn put 1-9 past the Dubs.

Joe Canning and David Burke haven’t seen a minute of league action yet this year as Donoghue looks to keep their powder dry for the summer, while Daithi Burke hasn’t featured since the opening game as he focuses on Corofin’s run to the All-Ireland club football final.

It’s unclear whether New York-based Jonathan Glynn will be back for another season, while Shane Moloney – who came on as a sub in last year’s final – has yet to make an appearance.

“There hasn’t been a word about Galway,” Anthony Daly said on Allianz League Sunday last night.

“There’s no limelight on them,” Henry Shefflin agreed.

“They can bring on the new players in not as pressurised an environment and let those players develop. Joe [Canning] and David Burke, they can rest them.

David Burke and Joe Canning show the Liam McCarthy Cup to the crowd in Ballinasloe Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s suited them down to the ground. With the championship this year it’s going to be very tense and played over a short period, so those players are going to be fresh.

Shefflin continued: “We haven’t seen them live. We’ve seen snippets of them on this show. They’re All-Ireland champions and we haven’t seen them live yet. It’s unbelievable. I think it’s suited them perfectly.”

That’ll all change this weekend with Galway’s promotion clash against Limerick set for live coverage on TG4 at 2.30pm.

The sides sit joint-top of the division with 100% records and their league quarter-final spots already booked, but only one county can join the big guns in Division 1A next season.

The Galway team arrive Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Limerick, even without their cohort of Na Piarsaigh players, have blitzed their way through the league so far and lead Galway by 29 points in scoring difference. It means Galway need a win to deny the Shannonsiders a ticket to the top flight.

“I don’t think Micheal Donoghue would be too bothered if he stayed down there for another year, blood young lads and tip away,” Daly observed last night.

For the first time in over five months, the wider public will get a proper look at Galway on Sunday afternoon.

After a lengthy spell waiting in the long grass, the All-Ireland champions will re-enter the national consciousness in Pearse Stadium as the season begins to speed up.

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Kevin O'Brien

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