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The League is a perfect time for Galway’s rebuild

Ivan Smyth takes a look at Galway’s panel options ahead of a league where they are missing a number of star names.

As back-to-back All-Ireland finalsts, Galway enter the National League with relatively little hype surrounding the team. The focus is instead on how Limerick will deal with the title of being All-Ireland champions, and if Liam Sheedy will return the steel that Tipperary are longing for after a disappointing 2018. Meanwhile, the Tribesmen are going about their business as usual, winning the Walsh Cup last week in impressive fashion.

Galway’s victory in the Walsh Cup was notable due to the number of new players blooded by Micheál Donoghue. They travelled to Enniscorthy, and despite being reduced to 13 men, earned a deserved six point victory against the hosts with a number of fresh faces in the team.

The starting fifteen that defeated Wexford contained only four survivors that lost last year’s All-Ireland final to Limerick; Joe Canning, Aidan Harte, Cathal Mannion and Padraic Mannion, who received his marching orders in the first half. Last year 14 of the players which started the 2017 All-Ireland final played against the Treaty County a year later, which suggests that Donoghue has been overly reliant on the same panel for quite some time.

With the league set to be reformed in 2020, Donoghue and his backroom team know that now is the perfect time to experiment ahead of the championship, with no promotion or relegation to worry about. This will allow all the top teams to rotate their squads without the threat of relegation looming large and for Donoghue to strengthen his core ahead of a march towards a third consecutive All-Ireland final.

Galway, Waterford and Dublin will not be fighting for promotion to 1A which also enables them to prepare for a league quarter-final clash with one of the other Liam MacCarthy teams in March. This will offer Donoghue the time to experiment with the young players at his disposal. Galway start their campaign with fixtures against Laois and Carlow and will be expected to account for both. Games against Dublin, Offaly and Waterford follow as the top four teams reach the league quarter finals.

In that Walsh Cup final Joe Canning scored 13 points while Aidan Harte was the unlikely goalscorer. Cathal Mannion was outstanding with four points from play as he was placed in the midfield with David Burke absent. Donoghue will be most pleased with how his young guns stood up to the task of being outnumbered for much of the second half. Jack Grealish was moved from his normal midfield berth in to corner back and was part of a rearguard that kept a clean sheet.

Pádraig Pearses’ Fergal Flannery made some crucial stops in the Wexford game as he looks to challenge James Skehill for the number one jersey come summer time. Kevin Hussey and Joe Mooney showed Galway have strength in the wing back area while Sean Bleahene provided a physical presence in the forward unit. Davy Glennon was also able to enjoy some game time as he seeks to recapture his form of old.

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With Oranmore-Maree in the All-Ireland Club Intermediate Final, this means that Galway have had to do without the services of Gearóid McInerney and Niall Burke and will continue to do so until after the 10th February.

St. Thomas’ emerged as county champions, meaning that David Burke and Conor Cooney will now be focusing on their club commitments. The Galway side face Ruairi Óg Cushendall of Antrim in an All-Ireland semi-final on 9th February. They will enter as favourites and if successful, will be in Croke Park as far away as St. Patrick’s Day, so would miss both for the entire group stage.

Daithi Burke will likely line out for Corofin in their All-Ireland semi-final against Gaoth Dobhair on 16th February. The reigning All-Ireland champions are strong favourites in that encounter and another final appearance is on the cards. Ronan Burke filled in at full back against Wexford, earning a clean sheet for his efforts.

Adrian Tuohy, John Hanbury and Paul Killeen are all currently recovering from injuries while Joseph Cooney is currently in Australia.

The Galway absentees will force the county management staff to examine different combinations and build strength in depth for the summer. Donoghue’s decisions on the line in the coming weeks could prove fruitful once we approach the business end of the championship.

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