The time is nigh for Galway to do Kerry some serious damage
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final Group One: Kerry v Galway (tomorrow, Croke Park, 4pm, live on RTÉ1)
THE last time Galway kicked a football with something significant resting on it, the Fifa World Cup was just getting into its swing in Russia.
The day before Galway took the field against Roscommon in the Connacht final in Dr Hyde Park on Sunday, June 17, France had beaten Australia and Croatia accounted for Nigeria in their maiden group games.
Four weeks later and Galway will be taking to the Croke Park pitch at exactly the same time as the Croats and French in Moscow, who have since battled their way through to a World Cup final.
If the Tribes men will have had plenty of free time - training sessions, family life and work aside – to put their feet up and watch events unfold in Russia, tomorrow's opponents aren't far behind them in the time to kill stakes.
Kerry's last Championship game, the Munster final hammering of Cork, took place on June 23, a full three weeks' ago. There's little doubt Kevin Walsh and Éamonn Fitzmaurice will have kept their respective panels focused in the intervening period but, while Galway haven't kicked a ball in anger in going on a month, it's questionable whether the Kingdom have had to get anything like angry at all so far this summer.
That procession against the Rebels in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was preceded by 22-point rout of Clare in Killarney and, while you can only beat what is put in front of you, what has been put in front of Kerry so far this Championship seems hardly to have taxed them.
Galway, on the other hand, had Mayo and Roscommon either side of a poor Sligo on their way to the Connacht title. Whatever about Mayo's possible demise following that Qualifier exit to Kildare, they are not poor, and it took a 74th minute Johnny Heaney goal to see Galway past 14 men in MacHale Park.
Sligo never pushed the Tribes men in a 4-24 to 1-12 semi-final rout at Pearse Stadium, but Roscommon were a different proposition altogether. The Rossies led at the break in the Connacht final, and it was only their second-half collapse – where they hit a total of two scores – and the boot of Shane Walsh that ensured a Galway victory.
In short, Galway have been in the thick of it, while Kerry have merely been swatting flies. Whether these challenges overcome equip the Tribes men with the steel needed to get a first Championship win over the Kingdom since 1965 is another matter entirely, however.
Kerry live for this time of year. They gear up to it accordingly, knowing instinctively when to press down hard on the accelerator. This year, Éamonn Fitzmaurice used the Munster Championship to blood many of last year's minor and U21 panels into the senior ranks. There were seven Championship debutants in starting positions against Clare.
Despite all the attention surrounding minor sensation David Clifford, full-forward Seán O'Shea has arguably been the pick of the new bunch, kicking seven points against Clare and four in the final against Cork.
The seemingly flawless transition which the likes of Clifford and O'Shea have made to senior Championship football has allowed Éamonn Fitzmaurice to ease the likes of Kieran Donaghy, Anthony Maher and Darran O'Sullivan into the summer. Donaghy and O'Sullivan have played bit parts in both games to date, while Maher has not been seen since a cameo appearance against Clare.
The vastly experienced Paul Geaney has also been on fine form, pointing seven against the Banner before rifling home 2-5 in a virtuoso display against Cork.
With Allstar corner-back Shane Enright also nearing full fitness – although he is unlikely to start tomorrow afternoon – Kerry's deck looks well in order for the challenges to come.
Still, if Galway are break their Championship duck against the Kingdom, this may be their best chance to do so in some time. The Tribes men went to Austin Stack Park in February and beat Fitzmaurice's charges in the National League, a first competitive victory over Kerry in 15 years and an important psychological boost.
In the process of topping the Division One table, they have also beaten every other Super 8 competitor, with the exception of Dublin, this year. Add the league exploits to those Championship victories over Mayo and Roscommon and you have a team in clearly fine fettle.
In all three games to date this summer, they have finished strongly, including hitting the last five points without reply against Roscommon. The aforementioned Shane Walsh has been a star turn so far, consistently kicking Galway clear of danger, while Damien Comer demonstrated his eye for goals against Sligo.
Kevin Walsh has faced criticism in the past for overly defensive tactics and the first-half performance in the Connacht final, as well as the National League final defeat to Dublin, is evidence of a continued nervousness when the prize is in sight.
However, to suggest this Galway team hasn't made significant strides in the right direction would be off the mark. They will test Kerry's mettle tomorrow and, quite possibly, put some big dents in it.
CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON SO FAR
Kerry 0-32 Clare 0-10
Kerry 3-18 Cork 2-4
Galway 1-12 Mayo 0-12
Galway 4-24 Sligo 1-12
Galway 0-16 Roscommon 2-6
7 – The number of times these two teams have faced off in All-Ireland finals over the years. Kerry currently have their noses in front, with four wins to Galway's three, the last coming after a replay in 2000.