1. Are Galway really a Croke Park team?
Since booking their return to Croke Park, there’s been talk out west that they may have saved their best football for Croke Park. It should be a ground that suits their expansive style of play.
And they rose to the occasion last year, running Cork to within a point at GAA headquarters with their best display of the season. Similarly, when they met Kerry there in 2008, they played a blinder and the Kingdom were flattered to win by five.
Yet it’s a painful fact that Galway haven’t won a single championship game at Croke Park since 2001. They’ve played six championship games there, lost five and drew one. It’s a remarkable statistic that nobody could have predicted after their demolition of Meath in the 2001 final, a Meath side that had beaten Kerry by 15 in the semi-finals.
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2. How will Kerry perform at midfield?
Kerry’s Munster final win over Cork was partly sourced at midfield. Bryan Sheehan was named at centre-forward but dropped back to partner Anthony Maher. Johnny Buckley switched to Sheehan’s centre-forward position but effectively played as a third midfielder and the Kingdom dominated the area.
Sheehan has been named at number 11 again this weekend though he may well repeat the switch with Buckley. Despite the Munster final success, a question mark hangs over Kerry’s midfield. Do Sheehan and Maher have the necessary guile and, whisper it quietly, devilment, for the role? Does Buckley have the mobility?
They will come up against one of the best midfield duos in the Championship in Galway’s Fiontan O Curraoin and Tom Flynn. That partnership has won two All-Ireland U21 titles and is the core of Galway’s team.
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3. It’s time for Galway to deliver
Finian Hanley has been at pains to point out this week that Galway aren’t a developing side any more as often suggested. Alan Mulholland did stress when he took over that a period of ‘transition’ was required, to account for the haemorrhaging of star talent.
But they are an experienced team now. Yes, midfield duo Fiontan O Curraoin and Thomas Flynn – their goal scorers last weekend – were All-Ireland U-21 medal winners just last year. But they were also playing senior football for Galway before Mulholland even took charge. So too Danny Cummins.
Former captain Hanley himself, current captain Paul Conroy, Gareth Bradshaw and Sean Armstrong have years of experience. So Galway have long since graduated their transition year, just without the honours to match.
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4. Could time catch up on Kerry?
There’s no better way of motivating a team than by questioning its ageing stars. Still, on their first visit to Croke Park of the year, it would be naive not to suggest Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony could struggle to cover all the gaps in defence. They are both 34 and will have their hands full keeping tabs on a lively young Galway forward line superbly led by Shane Walsh.
They will have to cope with a Galway midfield that thrives on hard running from deep too. If the worst case scenario materialises from a Kerry perspective and Galway win, we may have seen the last of Ó Sé and O’Mahony.
That would bring an end to the Ó Sé family dynasty at senior level following the retirements of brothers Tomás and Darragh in recent seasons. Likewise, Kieran Donaghy may opt to hang up his boots having been reduced to an impact sub role.
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5. Will Galway go for broke?
Much of the pre-match talk is that these are two teams who play fast, flowing football. But can Galway really afford to stick to their traditional style against a street wise Kerry side at Croke Park?
In his newspaper column, former Meath player Graham Geraghty wondered how Galway would have fared against Tipperary last weekend if they hadn’t scored two goals just before half-time. Tipp were on top before that but seemed to lack the experience to apply the killer instinct. As Geraghty asked, ‘If they were playing against Kerry instead of Tipp, would they have been cut open themselves?’
It’s a fair question. It’s not in Galway’s nature to play defensive football or to drop a man back. But Cork were forced to adapt to survive after being hammered by Kerry in the Munster final. Maybe Galway have taken note.