John Maher on a mission as Galway bid to dethrone All-Ireland champions Dublin

The Tribe have shown mental strength to bounce back from Armagh setback

Conor McCarthy played the pass that led to Barry McBennett's piledriver but Galway survived when it cannoned off the crossbar. Picture: Sportsfile
John Maher (right) gives chase as Conor McCarthy attacks in Salthill last Saturday. Picture: Sportsfile (Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE)

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final

Dublin v Galway (Saturday, Croke Park, 6.15pm, live on GAAGO)

ON the bus home from Sligo, the Galway team reached a crossroads. Armagh’s late equaliser in a game the Tribesmen had dominated denied them top spot in their group and meant they’d have to contend with Monaghan a week later.

They could wallow in self-pity, or they could roll the sleeves up and Padraic Joyce and his players chose the latter. There was no more grumbling and last weekend against Monaghan they showed the mental fortitude to complement their physical strength and reached this all-in battle with Sam Maguire holders Dublin.

Monaghan fought to the bitter end in Salthill last Saturday but Galway deserved their win and, if their walking wounded last the course, they will fancy themselves to do the same to Dublin if (and only if) they produce their best at Croke Park.

“Coming home on the bus from Sligo we knew we’d have a game the following weekend and we hoped we’d have a game the weekend after that,” said John Maher, who has added to the steel in Galway’s physically imposing middle eight this year.

“When you’re in that position you have to accept it and move on and I think that’s what we did as a group.

“We haven’t lost in this Championship campaign so far so we definitely do have a bit of momentum and it’s good to have that feelgood attitude in the camp. At the start of the season you’d probably say you wouldn’t like to play that extra game but that was the position we were in and we accepted that.”

Cormac Costello could be one of the stars for Dublin on Sunday
Cormac Costello scored Dublin's crucial equaliser against Mayo

Galway were denied an automatic quarter-final spot because of Stefan Campbell’s late equaliser while Dublin earned themselves one because Cormac Costello managed a late leveller of his own against Mayo.

The Dubs got out of jail but Brian Howard said his county’s performance in that game at Hyde Park was “nowhere near good enough”. Dessie Farrell and his troops will have spent the last two weeks working hard to correct the mistakes they made in defence and attack.

“It was good to get the test,” said Howard.

“It’s so valuable in a game to for it to go down to the wire. You can try and replicate it in training but it’s never going to be the same as actually on a match day so it was good to get that test.”

A clash of Howard and Maher would be worth watching on Saturday. The game is Galway’s first Championship appearance at Croke Park since the All-Ireland final in 2022 and Maher wasn’t involved that day.

He has been around the panel for a few years now and made his senior county debut against Mayo in 2020 but was taken off at half-time with the Westerners in control. Salthill Knocknacarra clubman Maher returned to the fold last year and made his Championship debut against Roscommon but Galway bowed out before the quarter-finals. He comes across as a man on a mission.

“It’s a buzz for us to be back in Croke Park,” he said.

“It’s something we couldn’t do last year and we’ll really relish it this year.”

A ball-winner around the middle of the field, he left his mark on a few Armagh men in Sligo and did the same against Monaghan in Salthill as well as popping up with a score as Galway pulled away in the closing stages.

“We were a bit fortuitous with them hitting the crossbar but we stuck to our football and kept chipping the scores, we didn’t panic,” he said.

“We played with a bit of panic in the first half. There were some handling errors, the conditions were tough and we needed to run the ball a bit more and I think that’s what we did in the second half.

“We ran it, we made the simple passes and all the scores were handy ones - nothing too fancy.

“It’s always good to chip in with a score so I’m happy with the performance but you’re always wanting more and I’ll need a bit more out of myself next week because it’s going to be a big challenge.”