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Wednesday 26 September 2018

The Galway enigma faces its moment of Croke Park truth

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Kerry v Galway (Croke Park, Tomorrow 2.0, Live RTÉ 2)

Galway boss Kevin Walsh will have to curb the onslaught of Kerry’s dynamic duo, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue when the the teams meet in Croke Park tomorrow. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Galway boss Kevin Walsh will have to curb the onslaught of Kerry’s dynamic duo, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue when the the teams meet in Croke Park tomorrow. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

In one respect, tomorrow's opening quarter-final in Croke Park represents the ideal opportunity for Kevin Walsh's Galway.

Their most recent effort against Donegal was hugely encouraging and yet, for once in the slipstream of such a rampaging performance, they aren't lumbered with favouritism.

And we all know how Galway positively loathe that millstone.

So, no worries on that front: Kerry are 1/5. No one this side of Ballinasloe or north of Tuam expects anything other than a relatively routine triumph for Eamonn Fitzmaurice's men.

In a sense, though, what outsiders or even their own fans expect doesn't matter. What really counts is the mindset of the Galway dressing-room.

Do they truly believe they can topple Kerry? And, if so, will they produce the necessary intensity and mental fortitude to make it a possibility?

Dogs of war

Former Galway captain Ray Silke used a phrase for what's required when speaking to The Herald this week: that old "dog of war". That's what top teams bring to Croke Park from here on in. Kerry, for all their reputation as Gaelic football royalty, have seldom lacked for this canine quality.

The current team is now showing that streak, as evidenced by their fractious stalemate with Dublin in Tralee last March and their league final defeat of the same Dubs in April.

It was a different story in the Munster final: Cork's resistance was so fitful that Kerry could strike at their leisure. They duly won with 11 points to spare, while offering a chilling reminder that when James O'Donoghue is match-fit and available to dovetail with Paul Geaney, there isn't a more deadly inside duo anywhere.

If Kerry are the aristocrats, then Galway are the great enigmas. You could argue that this dates back to the 2001 All-Ireland final, when a poor first half gave way to a Pádraic Joyce master-class in the second. That remains Galway's last championship win in Croke Park.

At least their Division 2 final victory over Kildare ended the HQ rot. That might have to suffice, for now, unless Kerry's recent promise unravels in tandem with that rare event, a Tribal tour de force against heavyweight opposition.

For that to happen, tenacity must be the starting point: its absence against Roscommon opponents, many of them smaller in stature, was alarming and ultimately lethal.

This quality was fully restored last Saturday; the only caveat must be that Donegal were so surprisingly docile.

Then comes the middle-eight battleground so often dominated by all the Kerry 'Ms' - David Moran and Anthony Maher, aided by Paul Murphy and Tadhg Morley.

Galway have already gone some way to correcting the self-inflicted crisis that was their own kickout against Ros, yielding 1-2 in direct mistakes.

Justified

Last year's first choice 'keeper, Bernard Power, was restored against Donegal. That decision was justified not just by his penalty and rebound saves to deny Paddy McBrearty, but by their improved ratio of kickout success.

Power's delivery and a tactical shift towards longer restarts facilitated Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn in wresting dominance of the skies, aided at different stages by Johnny Heaney and Damien Comer.

If Galway can establish a similar possession foothold, they possess a multi-faceted attack with the potential to hurt a Kerry defence that coughed up too many goal chances for its liking against Cork.

If you consider the gliding movement of Shane Walsh and Michael Daly; the power and directness of Comer; the guile of Seán Armstrong and Ian Burke; not to mention Heaney's 2-2 heroics against Donegal ... if they all click, this could get very interesting.

But can they really close off Kerry's supply lines? And, if not, can their quaking full-back line be trusted to even limit the damage that O'Donoghue and Geaney might wreak?

We don't think so.

ODDS: Kerry 1/5 Draw 14/1 Galway 9/2

VERDICT: Kerry

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