Connacht final weekend is just up ahead of us, with our first provincial decider appearance in five years taking place on Sunday. We’re set to take on Galway at Pearse Stadium then for possession of the Nestor Cup. Throw-in is 1.30pm, Seán Hurson of Tyrone is the ref and the match is live on RTÉ2 with match commentary on Midwest Radio as well.
This is, needless to say, a massive game for both teams. With all due respect and deference to both Cork and Tipperary, Kerry’s ejection from the Championship last weekend has blown open our side of the draw. Whoever emerges from Salthill with the silverware on Sunday will, with justification, fancy their chances of making it to the All-Ireland final on the weekend before Christmas.
But, of course it’s massive – it’s knockout football. While we’ve recent form as regards eliminating the neighbours from the Championship – we did for them, don’t forget, in Round 4 of the qualifiers down in Limerick last summer – you have to go all the way back to 1998 for the most recent time that they turfed us out of the running. Things didn’t go half bad for them that summer having done so either.
But let’s take last year’s match in Limerick as our point of departure when considering what Galway have been up to of late. A departure gate that result proved to be for them too, as it brought the curtain down on Kevin Walsh’s tenure as Galway manager.
The Tribesmen started this year with a fair old pep in their step under new man Padraic Joyce. We let them off the hook in an FBD League encounter in mid-January, when a late, late comeback saw them level the tie and then they beat us on penalties. They went on to win the FBD final and so came into their Division One campaign with a nice bounce.
Until Covid struck, they were having a cracking spring campaign. Indeed, such was their form that they were already being loudly touted as genuine challengers to Dublin for the All-Ireland. Come to think of it, maybe they still are.
They started their League schedule at Sunday’s venue where they prevailed by a point in a close 1-14 to 0-16 encounter with Monaghan. Their next two games were very close too, both of which were also decided by the minimum margin.
The Kerry game was the one that got away, as they left Tralee beaten by just a single point, 1-15 to 2-11. That result was, however, balanced by their next road trip when, in a Round 3 game up in Letterkenny, they edged out Donegal by 2-8 to 2-7.
Tiring, perhaps, of those close shaves, Galway went out the next day and demolished Tyrone. That 2-25 to 0-12 defeat they inflicted on the Red Hands was the worst one suffered by Mickey Harte in his long tenure with them.
Meath battled hard against Galway – as the Royals did against everyone they played in this campaign – but the visitors won the game at Navan by two points, 1-14 to 1-12. That win saw Galway sitting pretty at the top of the Division One table, with the chance to relegate us as we prepared to meet in Round 6 on Patrick’s weekend.
That meeting didn’t, of course, happen until a few weeks ago and, when it did, it turned out differently to how any of us might have imagined it would. We beat them out the gate in Tuam, winning pulling up on a scoreline of 3-23 to 0-17.
Galway went on to lose their Round 7 match the following weekend as well. This was another home game, this time in Pearse Stadium, where they went under by two clear goals to Dublin who came away with a 2-15 to 0-15 victory.
Those two defeats cost Galway their shot at a League title. Instead they finished in third spot on eight points.
Sligo should have been their next opponents but that Connacht semi-final meeting never happened. Covid was once more the culprit, with the unfortunate Yeats County having to withdraw from the fixture due to an outbreak in their ranks.
This means that Galway’s first game in this year’s Championship will be Sunday’s Connacht decider. It’s not a unique occurrence – our opening match in 1950 was also the provincial final – but it is unprecedented in the modern era. But then again we are living in unprecedented pandemic times.
Playing Championship football at this time of year feels so strange and alien but it’s best to place this match in its proper context, as the latest chapter in a storied rivalry between the two counties. Sunday’s final is a significant one too in terms of Connacht titles won, as we go into it holding 46 provincial crowns each.
A win the next day would enable one of us to edge ahead in that particular battle, at least for a short while. Long may the rivalry live on.
So, then, who do you think will have their paws on the Nestor Cup on Sunday? Let’s finish with a vote on that.
Will we beat Galway on Sunday?
- Yes (77%, 662 Votes)
- No (23%, 200 Votes)
Total Voters: 862