Cyrill Farrell: Galway in need of big result to reinforce title credentials
This is in no way intended to be disrespectful to Laois, but if they are not beaten by a minimum of eight points this evening, it will be a bad sign for Galway.
Laois have made real progress under 'Cheddar' Plunkett and, no doubt, there's a lot more to come.
But if Galway are to be regarded as genuine All-Ireland contenders - a rating they hinted at in the replay against Dublin two weeks ago - they have to show that they can work their way calmly and ruthlessly through whatever Laois put in front of them.
It took them well over an hour to do it two years ago and they didn't manage it all last season when they were lucky to beat Laois by two points in Portlaoise. What happened in 2013 showed that it wasn't a case of Galway misfiring against Laois but, instead, that they were at a level where they couldn't compete with better sides.
They were hammered by Dublin in the Leinster final and made a tame exit from the All-Ireland race against Clare in the quarter-final. Clare had earlier beaten Laois by 20 points.
Galway drew with Kilkenny after beating Laois last year, but were well beaten both in the replay and later on by Tipperary. That was in keeping with the inconsistency which has afflicted Galway over the last two years.
Now, the question is whether the big win over Dublin was a one-off or the start of something stable and significant. That's why it's so important for them that they deliver another high-quality performance this evening.
If they do, an eight-point minimum win is well within their capabilities. A win by much less than that wouldn't do anything to suggest they are pushing into the top contenders' list.
Playing in Portlaoise was an advantage for Laois in the last two years. They will miss it this evening against a Galway team that has become used to O'Connor Park. They haven't always played well there but their last memory is good.
They should bring a good following with them as there has been a discernible rise in confidence in Galway since the Dublin win. Besides, Galway people like going to Tullamore.
It's certainly easier to get to and out of than Pearse Stadium, as anyone who was caught in the gridlock before and after last Sunday's football game can testify.
Galway have a fair idea of how Laois will set themselves up. Unlike Dublin, who went for a shoot-out in the replay and left gaping holes in their defence, which Galway exploited very early on, Laois will pack the channels.
That's where the test comes for Galway. They have got to be able to figure it out and set about opening up a decent lead, forcing Laois to be more adventurous. That, in turn, should create more openings for Galway.
Galway will win, but keep an eye on how they do it because it will tell a lot about where they're headed for the rest of the season.
Their next test will almost certainly be against Kilkenny. Wexford have targeted tomorrow's game ever since the championship draws were made last October and Liam Dunne will have them really primed for it, but I can't see them beating Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
It's Kilkenny's first championship outing so there will be huge interest in how they shape up. I wouldn't pass any heed on their league form which left them needing to beat Clare to stay in Division 1A.
They were way below strength for most of the spring but, in the end, they managed to win the crucial game with Clare.
It's very different now that they have so many of the big stars back. Besides, this is the championship, the time when Kilkenny really come out to play.
They will need to because as Wexford proved last year, they are a dogged lot when they get their game going. Liam Dunne has got them playing with the same level of drive and determination he brought to his own game, so Kilkenny can expect a really tough physical test.
Not, mind you, that Kilkenny will worry about that. They are well able to look after themselves.