In what should be an interesting tussle, beaten Ulster finalists Donegal take on Galway in the second of Saturday’s Round 4B qualifiers at Croke Park.
Saturday’s game presents Kevin Walsh’s Galway team with the opportunity to present real evidence that the westerners are close to a return to Gaelic football’s top table. Under Alan Mulholland Galway looked to be making some steady if unspectacular progress, running Cork and Kerry close in their previous two Championship visits to Croke Park in 2013 and 2014.
Getting to this stage of the Championship can be viewed as a success for Walsh and his men, but a victory over Rory Gallagher’s Donegal on Saturday would represent substantial progress for the Tribesmen. Defeating Donegal would represent Galway’s first major scalp in a number of seasons, while it would be their first victory at GAA HQ since their All Ireland victory in 2001.
Since losing to Mayo in their Connacht semi-final, Galway have matured tactically, to deal with the threat of Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh, and Derry in the previous round. In both those hard fought victories, Walsh’s men showed the heart and grit not often associated with Galway teams, as well as a tactical game plan conducive to modern day Gaelic football.
Kevin Walsh has made one change from the victory over Derry, introducing Adrian Varley into the full forward line in place of Peadar Og O’ Griofa.
As much as Galway have embraced and adopted a more defensive and structured game plan this summer, they come against the masters of tactical warfare in Donegal on Saturday.
The 2012 All Ireland champions are the standard bearers for tactical play in Ireland, and it remains to be seen whether Galway are capable of out-thinking and out-strategizing Donegal on Saturday.
Rory Gallagher’s men face the prospect of playing Galway just thirteen days on from that gut wrenching loss to Monaghan in Clones.
Donegal never really fired during that Ulster final, but if they have made the required adjustments and improvements in that thirteen day turnaround, they should be too strong and experienced for Kevin Walsh’s Galway side.
Donegal are still viewed by many as genuine All Ireland contenders, with the general consensus being the thirteen day break should be of benefit, as opposed to the old system of playing a fourth round qualifier just a week after a provincial final loss.
Rory Gallagher is yet to name his starting fifteen, but one player definitely missing will be Karl Lacey. The 2012 Footballer of the Year has already been ruled out with a knee injury picked up during the defeat to Monaghan.
Galway are a much more evenly balanced team this summer, with a new tactical outlook aiding the skilful, pure football we have been used to witnessing from Galway teams in the past.
Donegal on the other hand are old masters of knowing how to grind out big results and performances when they are really needed, and even though they failed to do so against Monaghan in the Ulster Final, it would be a shock if they don’t make use of the advantage in experience and big match know how they possess in their panel compared to their Galway counterparts.
Donegal team: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney; Christy Toye, Odhrán Mac Niallais, Mark McHugh; Paddy McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden.
Galway team: B O’Donoghue; J Duane, F Hanley, C Sweeney; L Silke, G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw; F O Curraoin, T Flynn; G Sice, P Conroy, M Lundy; A Varley, D Comer, D Cummins.