So we’ve drawn Galway in Round 4.
There’s more than a little bit of poetic justice in this. Had we gone the direct route we’d still have had to beat Galway in the Connacht final to make the Super Eights. This is now the task that faces us on Saturday evening at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick (throw-in 7pm), only this time it’s in a super-charged, high octane, knockout clash, reminiscent somewhat of the Championship of old.
In one sense, everything is different about this meeting with Galway. We’ve never met in the Championship before outside of the Connacht SFC and we’ve never before played a Championship game against them at a venue outside the province.
But, in another way, it’s like going back in time. Back in 1999, at Tuam Stadium, we took the provincial spoils, unceremoniously dumping the then reigning All-Ireland champions out of race for Sam. None of our Championship meetings since then saw the losers exit by virtue of the loss. On Saturday evening they will.
So, let’s quickly survey what’s been happening with Galway, both in relation to our meetings with them and their track record more generally.
Nobody needs reminding about our unhappy recent record against them. Starting in 2009 we had a great run of wins over them but that came to a shuddering stop in 2016 when they shocked us in the Connacht semi-final at Castlebar. They repeated the dose a year later in Salthill and again last year back at MacHale Park.
Since returning to Division One in the League they’ve beaten us both times we’ve met. They’ve also got the better of us in the FBD, albeit this January only after a penalty shootout.
Overall, then, we haven’t been able to buy a win over them at all in recent years. Worse still, this same virus is also active at U20 and Minor level, where there’s a similar trail of defeats to the Tribesmen of late.
Widening out the lens, I think it’s fair to say that while Galway have done much to muscle past us – and, invariably, they appear pumped to the absolute max every time they face us – they haven’t always backed this up when facing anyone else. Indeed, since beating us in 2016, their subsequent Championship runs have ended badly every single year.
Tipperary humbled them in the All-Ireland quarter-final that year and twelve months later they went under very tamely to Kerry at the same stage of the Championship.
Last year, to be fair, they made more of a splash, making it through the Super Eights where their most noticeable victory was in Phase 1 against Kerry. This was their first Championship success over the Kingdom since the three-in-a-row days back in the Sixties but, curiously, it wasn’t a win that was greatly celebrated then as the national breakthrough it appeared to herald.
Victory over Kildare at Newbridge in Phase 2 – where they had no problem dispatching the county that had eliminated us at the same ground in Round 3 of the qualifiers a few weeks earlier – effectively guaranteed them their place in the All-Ireland semi-final. But they then bombed badly in Phase 3, losing heavily back at Salthill to Monaghan.
That loss, in effect, cost them whatever chance they had of making the All-Ireland final. Instead of facing Tyrone in the semi-final they now were paired with Dublin who proceeded to beat them with considerable ease.
This year they’ve enjoyed a decent League run and they could, had results gone the other way in Round 7, have made it to the Division One final instead of us.
In Round 1 they beat Cavan by 0-13 to 0-11 at Pearse Stadium but a week later went down tamely to Dublin at Croke Park, losing by 1-15 to 0-7. They bounced back impressively the following weekend, though, coming away from Iniskeen with a hard-fought 1-9 to 0-11 win over Monaghan.
They lost out by the minimum margin, on a scoreline of 0-14 to 1-10, to Kerry at Tuam Stadium in Round 4 but a week later they had two points to spare over us at Castlebar, winning that grudge match by 1-11 to 0-12.
A 1-16 to 1-10 win over Roscommon at Salthill in Round 6 put them in the frame for a place in the League final. We needed them to slip up in that final round but they were seven up at the break against Tyrone in Omagh and so those of us at Castlebar for our match against Monaghan were left to rue then what we thought was our missed opportunity.
Back roared Tyrone in the second half, however, banging in three goals to engineer a 14-point swing and win by 3-15 to 1-14, thus propelling us into the Division One decider. Which we won, of course, even if all that does seem a long, long time ago, when half our team hadn’t been felled by injury.
Anyway, back to the neighbours. As we headed for NYC they jetted off to London to face the locals in the preliminary round of the Connacht Championship.
Galway were given a major scare by London in that match at McGovern Park, Ruislip, before eventually beating them by 0-16 to 1-9. They had it handy enough, however, against Sligo in the Connacht semi-final, with three second half goals at Markievicz Park paving the way to a 3-11 to 0-7 win.
They were strong favourites to beat Roscommon in the provincial decider but, then, so were we when we’d faced the Rossies in the semi-final. We underestimated them and paid the price and the same happened to the Tribesmen who found themselves powerless to contain a strong second half surge by Anthony Cunningham’s charges, going under at Salthill by 1-13 to 0-12.
That defeat tipped Galway into Round 4 of the qualifiers and the fates conspired to pair us with them in this morning’s draw. The bookies rate Saturday’s meeting as a toss-up, even if Galway’s recent record over us would suggest that, crippled as we are with injuries to so many key players (I know, I know – they’re not bereft of that kind of trouble too), it’ll take something akin to superhuman effort for our lads to end what is now a long losing run to them.
What do you think – will this be another dispiriting loss to the neighbours or could it instead be the day when the wheels starts to turn once more in relation to this great Gaelic football rivalry? Let’s finish with a vote on that.
Will we land a knockout blow on Galway?
- Yes (70%, 825 Votes)
- No (30%, 346 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,171