Hurlers’ hunt for Liam begins in Leinster

Galway hurler Conor Whelan at the launch of the eir GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship in Croke Park ahead of the 2024 season kick off.

Galway hurler Conor Whelan at the launch of the eir GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship in Croke Park ahead of the 2024 season kick off.

By Alan Dooley

The Galway senior hurlers’ quest for Liam McCarthy gets underway this Sunday afternoon in Pearse Stadium at 2pm. Carlow will travel west for a low-key Leinster championship opening round contest.

The last time Galway won the Bob O’Keefe Cup was back in 2018. On that day, David Burke hoisted it aloft in Semple Stadium after a comprehensive replay win over Kilkenny. This was also the last time the Tribesmen contested the All-Ireland final. The connection is a clear and obvious one, as Galway also reached the decider in 2012 and 2017 after claiming provincial honours.

Manager Henry Shefflin’s native county have held an Indian sign of sorts over Galway since that contest. The Tribesmen have suffered three final defeats in 2020, 2022 and 2023, when an incredulously late Cillian Buckley goal robbed Galway of victory.

Carlow claimed their second Joe McDonagh Cup last May to return to the All-Ireland series, after emerging one-point victors over Offaly after extra time. Tom Mullally’s side finished top of Division Two after a strong league campaign which featured wins over Kerry, Meath, Laois, and Down.

Realistically though, this game will be a major step-up in class for a county with talismanic figure Marty Kavanagh. That being said, when Carlow last visited Salthill in 2019 for a first-round game, the hosts were far from convincing winners on a 1-24 to 1-18 scoreline; a margin of victory which ultimately cost them a top-three finish.

Galway are not long back from a high-intensity training camp in Portugal. This is a practice which may have its detractors, but given the condition of pitches all over the county it was perhaps the wisest course. It is sure to have brought the group closer together as they face into five games in six weeks.

The news that Johnny Glynn is now an integral part of that playing group is a major boost for Shefflin after the Ardrahan clubman committed to staying in the country. Glynn has a unique skillset that was well utilised on the edge of the square during last year’s club championship, and he has impressed Shefflin since joining the panel.

With heftier tests against Kilkenny and Wexford to come in quick succession, Shefflin will be keen to get off to a clinical start and make short work of the challenge posed by Carlow. Kevin Cooney is the only long-term injury worry - and while Galway appear to have made strides in their squad depth and development of younger players - the proof will ultimately be in whether they claim the ultimate prize.

The influence of former captain David Burke, an absentee last year, and Eamon O’Shea, a newcomer to the backroom team, will be keenly felt. Shefflin tried out players in a variety of positions and it will be intriguing to see where the likes of Daithí Burke, Cianan Fahy, and Gavin Lee are positioned as Galway get up and running.

 

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