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Analysis: Can Galway's underage rise finally see them match up to Mayo at senior level?

Huge Connacht clash on Sunday, we take a closer look at the teams involved.

JAMIE WALL IS well aware of the capabilities of Galway’s emerging footballers.

He faced off against them in the 2010 All-Ireland minor semi-final, the 2011 All-Ireland U21 semi-final and the 2013 All-Ireland U21 semi-final, and looks at how those underage prospects are set before Sunday’s Connacht semi-final. 

Aidan O'Shea and Fiontan O'Curraoin Action from the midfield battle in last year's Connacht final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CAN THIS Galway team match Mayo at senior level?

To some perhaps it’s a fanciful notion, as Mayo have bullied the chasing pack in the West over the past few years.

But to someone who has experienced the bulk of this current Galway crop up close and personal, not unlikely at all.

With two of the last five U21 All Ireland’s, Galway are primed to make a break this year. Success at U21 level is no guarantee of success at senior level but a look at the last ten U21 winners would beg to differ.

Of the other May Bank Holiday victors since 2006, only Mayo have failed to follow a Clarke Cup victory with a Sam Maguire since, and even they can point to three final appearances.

Keith Higgins lifts the cup 7/5/2006 Keith Higgins lifts the cup after Mayo's All-Ireland U21 final win in 2006. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

 

Simply put, it is past time that Galway shed the ‘dark horses’ tag and declared themselves contenders.

Skipper Paul Conroy could hold on to his starting midfield berth in their defeat of Leitrim, but the return from injury of Tom Flynn to potentially partner Fiontáin Ó Curraoin in midfield would see the restoration of one of the most exciting, and in my own personal experience, heartbreaking, midfield partnerships in the country.

Anthony Maher with Thomas Flynn and Fiontan O Curraoin Thomas Flynn and Fiontan O Curraoin in action against Kerry last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

 

Ó Curraoin at 6 ft 5” is the ultimate kickout target, while Flynn, no slouch in the air either, is more than just a fetcher.

Flynn is the box to box man, who ships a lot of punishment en route but doles it out in equal measure. It remains to be seen where he will fit into Galway plans with both Conroy and Ó Curraoin occupying the middle as things stand, but such competition shows that Galway are in a healthy position at midfield.

Tomas Flynn and Jamie Wall Jamie Wall in action against Tom Flynn in the 2011 All-Ireland U21 football semi-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

While either of these two partnerships are more than capable of establishing a foothold in the game for Galway, Mayo have a plethora of midfield options, with Barry Moran back in form after injury and Aidan O Shea a live option to drop back.

The return of Peadar Óg Ó Gríofa is a most welcome one, as it is perhaps in the physical stakes that Galway will find their task toughest. Competing with the brothers O’ Shea, Moran, Vaughan and Keegan is an onerous task for the biggest out there.

It would be less than surprising to see both Flynn and Conroy start, with one in the half forward line, alongside Gary Sice to bring a presence to the middle eight to counter Mayo’s physicality.

Of concern for Galway will be the lack of marquee scoring forward thus far this year. Not one Galway forward managed to make his way in to the top ten scorers in Division Two of the league. It is into this gap you would have hoped would step Shane Walsh, who with 1-29 to his name finished his second championship season as third in the scoring charts in 2014.

Shane Walsh Shane Walsh in action for Galway in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Unfortunately, Walsh sustained a serious hand injury in a car collision last weekend and will miss this encounter.

42 minutes on the same pitch as Walsh showed me just how good he is, get too close without affecting a challenge and you’re turned, and it doesn’t matter to which side either.

Stand off, and the ball is flying over your head, either between the sticks, or in to a Galway chest. All GAA people will hope for his speedy recovery.

Galway fans will hope that the temporary void that will be left by Walsh will be filled by the returning Micháel Lundy or 2013 U21 goal hero Damien Comer. Watch out for exciting 2010 minor Peadar Óg Ó Gríofa, who, following two cruciate setbacks has once more forced his way in to the Galway fold.

Darren Murphy can't stop Peadar O'Griofa scoring his 2nd goal Peadar Óg Ó Gríofa in action for Galway in the 2010 All-Ireland minor semi-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Cillian O’Connor, by comparison to the flair of Walsh, is almost robotic in his consistency, particularly from the dead ball. Top scorer by a distance in 2014, O’ Connor missed just two frees from inside the 40m line, one of which was a last ditch attempt on goal from the 13-yard line versus Kerry.

Indeed his ability from placed ball has led to the lazy assertion that O’ Connor is just a free taker, but the stats will tell you in 2014 he also chipped in from play with an average of three points a game from play.

His efficiency in possession is also overlooked – from just ten possessions against Kerry in the All Ireland semi-final replay last year, he provided three points, two assists and one secondary assist.

All of which underlines how vital he is to the Mayo cause. An unerring free taker, who contributes from play, on the scoreboard and in the assist chart, it is fair to say this game could well have been won on the physio table after O’Connor bounced back from a recent injury.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly Mayo joint managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes have stepped in to the Mayo breach after James Horan, who enjoyed relative success, departed after failing to achieve the ultimate goal of September success.

After an indifferent league campaign, this game represents a real opportunity for Galway. Only Dublin have had more success at U21 level in the past ten years. It is time now for Galway to kill the boy, and let the man be born.

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Jamie Wall

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