Confident Monaghan can advance to All-Ireland semis
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final group one: Galway v Monaghan (today, Pearse Stadium, 6pm, live on Sky Sports Arena)
YOU can pull it to pieces and then piece it all back together, but no matter what way you look at it, there's an over-riding thought: If Monaghan can't win this game, they have no errand in an All-Ireland semi-final.
That might seem harsh, but the business end is just that. Winner-takes-all football hasn't been as unkind to them as the quarter-final narrative suggests – two Ulster titles, anyone? – but this is new to everybody.
It's like going into the old man across the road's garden to ask for the ball back. If anyone would be cantankerous enough to put the knife in it and ignore the pleading knocks, it's an in-your-face Galway side that hasn't taken a backward step all year.
But surely, surely their approach to this one softens. It has to, for their own good. You can argue about momentum and winning runs and all the rest, but there's a bigger picture.
You don't need to dust off much of the archives for an indicator of what they might do here.
When they brought Dublin to Salthill in the middle of the National League, they had their priorities straight. Many would have viewed it as an opportunity to solidify a good start. Kevin Walsh viewed it as a threat, that he might give away his hand.
They changed their goalkeeper, and gave complete rests to Gareth Bradshaw, Declan Kyne and Sean Kelly. Shane Walsh was taken off after 46 minutes, while Damien Comer only got the other end of the game off the bench. Johnny Heaney got less still.
It's not that they didn't care whether they won or lost. Their performance shows that they damn well did care. A 0-13 all draw with a side that seldom struggles anywhere against anyone was perhaps the biggest psychological boost they've had all season, even if the Dubs made a few changes themselves.
But Galway had their ducks in a row. They showed no hand and that offered them a better chance of winning a league final. They couldn't quite carry the plan off, but it was all logical nonetheless.
This is the exact same situation, except there's more at stake. Galway have the choice to make again.
It seems unfathomable that they would go full tilt at this, for two reasons.
The first is that they have already qualified for the semi-final. Defeat here would mean they're back out again in six days against the All-Ireland champions in Croke Park.
Where have Dublin lost their two championship games since 2013? At the semi-final stage. And Kerry almost took them twice as well. There is a theory to which it's easy to subscribe that you're better getting them next weekend than on the first one of September.
Galway could lose this game even if they go after it. That would be terminal. There's no way they'd get their minds and bodies right in less than a week for the challenge that would be waiting for them on the other.
If they go with a full team and win, it will have been another fortnight when they've been kicking down doors. You can only do that for so long before you tire.
This is the perfect opportunity for them to enjoy the comedown that they will so badly need if they're to win an All-Ireland. They have, across the last eight months, looked like the most serious challengers but the run has been just as exhausting as it is exhilarating for a squad that isn't used to this.
Galway will want to win the game. Chances are that Kevin Walsh will do what he did that first day against Dublin, and change roughly a third of his team. With two black cards to his name, Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh is likely to be rested out of the full-back line. A couple from Johnny Heaney, Gareth Bradshaw, Shane Walsh and Damien Comer will play and a couple will sit it out.
The nucleus will remain, and any ideas Monaghan might have that those few changes will create a bit of a jelly centre will be quickly forgotten when the first hits land.
But it is a serious opportunity for Malachy O'Rourke's side. They passed one up thirteen days ago when they let a four-point lead slip in stoppage time, though it was nearly worse that they botched a gilt-edged chance to take it all back, only for Darren Hughes' pass to overshoot the runway.
A win turned into a draw with the sour taste of a defeat, so they've had some shaking off to do. There were flaws too, with the lack of scoring options outside of Conor McManus' sorcery and Rory Beggan's frees from the middle of Clones town.
But Monaghan will well remember their trip to Salthill in February. They were comfortably the better side in the opening 34 minutes, leading 0-7 to 0-5 and controlling the game. Fintan Kelly won a free in to put three in it, but kicked out as he got up. Got himself sent off, lost the free and Galway went on to secure an easy victory.
Neil McAdam throwing himself around against the human mountains in Galway's midfield will be something Malachy O'Rourke would do well to recall, even if Paul Conroy's bad leg break does weaken them slightly in an area where they've no shortage of options.
If Damien Comer plays then they'll remember how Drew Wylie struggled with his physicality when he found himself up against the Annaghdown bull. Vinny Corey, having done a good job on Kieran Donaghy for 73 minutes, will almost certainly be handed the task should it arise.
Ryan Wylie will have to be at his most alert to deal with the darting Ian Burke, but so much of their threat comes on the counter-attack, with Eamonn Brannigan the most regular link between defence and attack.
A summer that's seen them beat Mayo, Roscommon, Kerry and a resurgent, physical Kildare has been a big summer for Galway. If they want that to take a turn down the road of historic, they'd be better not throwing all their eggs at this one.
If Monaghan think for one second that a few changes in personnel will represent a handy ride, then they'll be sitting in their living rooms watching Kerry playing Dublin next Saturday afternoon.
Should that happen, it could break this Monaghan team. To pass up two glittering opportunities to reach the last four, with the distinct possibility that they'll be meeting Tyrone or Donegal if they get there, would be something from which they may never recover.
But you sense they won't need to. Those first 34 minutes of the league game, and their performance last weekend, will give Monaghan enough belief to go and get at least the draw they need.
Man of the moment
WHO best to give an insight into what the diminutive Corofin man has brought to their attack than Lee Keegan, speaking yesterday on Off the Ball: “Without Ian Burke at the moment, these guys are not going to be getting half the scores they are. He's like a little wizard, a little Messi. His hands are absolutely magnificent. He's one of the most skilful an influential players I've seen over the last couple of weeks.” Burke played none of the National League as his club collected another All-Ireland title, but his influence on Galway has been marked since he was introduced. Often drifts out a bit as a playmaker and it's his speed of thought, and hands, that Ryan Wylie will have to be most careful with.
Galway (probable): R Lavelle; D Kyne, E Kerin, D Wynne; G O'Donnell, G Bradshaw, J Duane; C Duggan, P Cooke; S Kelly, P Sweeney, E Branningan; S Armstrong, D Comer, I Burke
THERE'S a chance that the team above will be completely wrong, but that would only be in the event that Kevin Walsh decides to go with a full hand. The likes of Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh could all possibly be rested. They might all start but it seems more likely that, with a semi-final place already assured, they'll want to take out a few of the men that have played big minutes this year. Gareth Bradshaw and Johnny Heaney could also possibly get a bit of a rest. It'll all be guesswork until the minutes before throw-in.
Monaghan (probable): R Beggan; R Wylie, V Corey, K Duffy; K O'Connell, D Wylie, C Walshe; D Hughes, N Kearns; N McAdam, F Kelly, S Carey, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, C McManus
Subs: C Forde, C Boyle, B Kerr, D Mone, N McAdam, K Hughes, T Kerr, O Duffy, P McKenna, J McCarron, D Garland
MALACHY O'Rourke is likely to continue his policy of naming the starting team from the last day out against Kerry, and then making late changes. There's a feeling that, after he was fairly effective in the league game, Neil McAdam could get a rare start to combat Galway's aerial prowess at midfield. Kieran Hughes had a great game that day too, and he could come in for either Carey or McCarthy. Otherwise it will be as you were.
Galway tactical take
THE personnel may change but the basics of what they're doing will not. In some quarters they'll been criticised for their approach this year, which is somewhat baffling given that the only game they've lost was the National League final to Dublin. They will drop numbers back but their counter-attacking play is better than anyone else's, with the use of the boot a prominent feature. If Damien Comer starts, Monaghan will need to beware the threat of leaving him one-on-one inside at any stage. Paul Conroy is a big loss from midfield, yet they're not shy of six-footers to come in. Tom Flynn, Peter Cooke, Ciaran Duggan and Fiontan Ó Curraoin could all play. If they push up on Rory Beggan's kickouts, they could find great advantage in that height.
Monaghan tactical take
SHOWED a different side to themselves against Kerry that will most likely go back into the box. Conor McManus certainly won't be left one-against-one this time around, with Eoghan Kerin plus a sweeper or two likely to occupy his space. Rory Beggan's kickouts have been a huge feature and he'll have to be particularly sharp this weekend. If he can get his restarts away before Galway can push up, it would negate a big strength for the Connacht champions. Malachy O'Rourke may well entrust Neil McAdam with a job in the middle to try and combat Galway's physical advantage, and the Monaghan boss will most likely entrust Vinny Corey with the job at full-back if it's Comer in there.
Eoghan Kerin v Conor McManus
AS much as Monaghan have tried – and, in some way, succeeded – to ease the pressure on Conor McManus as their sole attacking hope, there's no getting away from the fact that their hopes will live or die on whether he has a good day or a great one. There are very few bad days from him now, and you only need to look back to the league game between these two. Galway had Kerin, who has done some superb man-marking jobs (the last of which was on Kevin Feely), stuck to him but in the opening 20 minutes, McManus won two frees and got a score from play. You'll never keep him completely quiet, but if Kerin stands him up and forces him into the sea of supporting bodies, it will have a big impact on the game.
IT'S set to be fairly humid in Salthill (or at least as humid as Salthill gets), with the clouds set to break off at some stage during the evening to make way for a bit of sunshine. No rain forecast, although the wind is due to strengthen around match time.
Last Championship meeting
1938 All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Galway 2-10 Monaghan 2-3
IT was a day of firsts in some ways, but not in the way that the Farneymen would have liked.
Micheal O'Hehir gave his first ever radio broadcast from the game, which took place in Mullingar, while it was also the first year of the rotation of the All-Ireland semi-finals that, to a point, still exists today.
The Monaghan side captained by the legendary Jack Crawley also had Pat McGrane at centre-forward, with his name since immortalised in St Tiernach's Park.
But in terms of their bid to reach a first ever All-Ireland final, they were playing second fiddle all day.
Galway had a handful of blow-ins on their side, with Bobby Beggs having played against them for Dublin in the final four years previous, while Jackie Flavin had won an All-Ireland with Kerry the previous year.
An opportunist goal from Pat McGrane gave Monaghan hope midway through the first half, tying the sides at 1-1 to 0-4, but Galway pushed on to lead by three at the break before taking complete control early in the second half.
Michael Mannion's goal sent them seven clear and then a 50' from John Burke went straight into the net to put Galway 2-9 to 1-2 clear, with Monaghan grabbing a late consolation goal.
That year brought them their eleventh Ulster title, but little did Monaghan know that it would be another 41 years before they'd catch sight of an Ulster title or the All-Ireland series again.
Last five NFL meetings
2018: Galway 0-17 Monaghan 1-10
2014: Monaghan 0-13 Galway 0-12
2012: Galway 1-14 Monaghan 0-12
2011: Monaghan 0-19 Galway 0-14
2010: Galway 1-20 Monaghan 1-14
Who's the ref?
Conor Lane (Cork)
IT got lost in the euphoric glow afterwards but Monaghan were surely displeased with his performance in their Ulster semi-final defeat by Fermanagh. The Farneymen seemed to get the raw deal, and how he dealt with Fermanagh's defence digging at Conor McManus will be a concern as they head in to face an equally physical Galway. It'll be Lane's sixth championship outing this summer, with four of the five so far involving Ulster sides and the other being Galway's win in Castlebar. Guilty of the strangest call of the year when he didn't award Donegal's Paddy McGrath a penalty against Dublin despite signalling for an advantage.
Galway (-2) 6/5
Draw (-2) 17/2
Monaghan (+2) 5/6
Conor McManus 11/2
No goalscorer 11/2
Damien Comer 6/1
Conor McCarthy 8/1
Monaghan 6/4 (draw no bet)