If most people will concede that Kerry are the ultimate footballing team then most of those same people would probably allow that Galway would be next in line as a county that always purports to play the game in the true spirit of of the game.
It may not always get them the right result – unlike Kerry – but every county can always play complete football against the Tribesmen because Galway, themselves, will always try to play the ball before the man.
It’s in this context that it has to be reasoned that Kerry hit pay dirt when they were paired against Liam Sammon’s team in last Sunday’s All-Ireland Quarter- final draw.
Kerry know that for the most part if they are allowed to pit their raw football ability against any other county then more often than not the Kingdom will win out.
Six days after a tough, physical encounter with Monaghan, it would not have suited a buoyant but still unsettled Kerry side to be facing a rejuvenated Armagh side or a Dublin team that is right now full of energy and confidence following their easy saunter through Leinster.
For all their traditional football ability, Galway were the team Kerry wanted – needed – to be playing this weekend.
Recent history between the counties has produced some very entertaining matches (National League Finals in 2004 and 2006 and the 2002 All-Ireland Quarter-final, all three of which Kerry won).
The most recent encounter was the National League meeting in April in Salthill, a game that Kerry needed to win by three points or more saw an experimental Kingdom win by five, 0-15 to 0-10.
Pat O’Shea, rightly, says revisionism of that match will have little bearing on Sunday’s game in Croke Park,as both sides have covered much ground since then.
That’s true but there are little tell-tale signs that can be picked up from that Pearse Stadium meeting that can suggest Kerry can maintain their hold over the Connacht men.
Darragh Ó Sé was just back from his extended winter break and still managed to dominate the midfield exchanges against a Galway midfield of Niall Coleman and Barry Cullinane that continues to be unimpressive at best.
Colm Cooper only made a cameo appearance late in the game, he too just returned after a holiday in America. And there was no starting role for Declan O’Sullivan or Eoin Brosnan in Salthill either.
For all that – save for one Matthew Clancy shot that smashed off the crossbar – Kerry always looked in control against a Galway side that played smart, open football but that completely lacked real cutting and that couldn’t compete with the physical edge this Kerry has in spades and knows how to use.
In other words, whereas Kerry have perfected the almost perfect balance of being able to combine total football with a mean, hard edge, Galway – for the most part – haven’t added enough steel to their game.
Back in April in Salthill when Galway needed to call on some rough-house tactics, within the rules, they couldn’t.
And looking at what were fairly unconvincing wins over Roscomon and Mayo on their way to winning the Connacht title it doesn’t appear they have been imbued with any mean streak in the meantime.
For Kerry’s part last Sunday’s win over Monaghan merely reactivated Kerry’s inherent battling qualities that has complemented their inherent skill.
No more so that Kerry needed to get Galway in the quarterfinals, so they needed to draw Monaghan in the Qualifiers. One can only imagine what state Kerry would be in had they drawn and, one presumes, well beaten Kildare or Down or even Mayo last weekend.
To their credit, Monaghan brought a toughness to their game, while also playing some very expansive football, and that Kerry could rediscover the tools to counteract both those traits will put them in good stead facing Galway.
Pat O’Shea was right when he extolled Galway’s “exceptional football talent” and he was also correct when he said all Galway’s aces are in their forward lines, giving special mention to Padhraic Joyce and Michael Meehan.
O’Shea also describes Galway’s midfield as “rock solid” and while Cullinane and Coleman are fine footballers in their own right as a midfield partnership they are seen by many as Galway’s weak link.
Of course, despite Darragh Ó Sé’s tour de force last Sunday, there is a belief – substantiated by the Munster Final – that Kerry’s midfield can be vulnerable too, and if Galway can get someone to replicate Pierce O’Neill’s unsettling antics on Ó Sé Galway will give themselves more than a fighting chance of victory.
Still, Ó Sé is more at home in Croke Park than Pairc Ui Chaoimh and while the notion of him breaking the record of most championship appearances won’t mean much to him on the day, the “warhorse” as Kieran Donaghy described him last Sunday won’t want to be pushed around twice in the one summer.
Elsewhere, Pat O’Shea admits that the Galway game presents a very different challenge to the Monaghan match, and says that team selection (on Wednesday night) will be very much horses for courses.
That said, it is most probable that the forward line will see just one change, with Eoin Brosnan probably likely to regain his place in the half forward line at Donnchadh Walsh’s expense.
Tommy Griffin is very close to getting a start in midfield (he was man of the match in Salthill) but with a doubt over Aidan O’Mahony’s fitness, Griffin would be the automatic replacement in the half back line if O’Mahony doesn’t recover in time.
Overall, while Kerry will respect Galway as a very talented side , with a couple of lethal forwards, they will also know that the Tribesmen will afford them plenty of space and time, and in Croke Park that is meat and drink to this Kerry team.
Like those recent Croke Park meetings between the side, this is likely to be a high-scoring affair but with Tommy Walsh a game older and wiser, Donaghy high on confidence, Declan O’Sullivan a game fitter and sharper and the best still to come from Colm Cooper all the indicators are for a Kerry win.
Assuming Cork can defeat Kildare in their quarter-final a fourth All-Ireland semi-final meeting with the Rebels in six years beckons.
Motivation enough if any was needed.