This is where Galway's season starts - and they need to be alert for it
Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30
Tomorrow in Mullingar is where Galway's season starts for real.
All that matters for any team that loses an All-Ireland final is whether they can win it the following year. Anything less is deemed a failure, not least by players themselves.
The Galway squad raised the stakes by forcing a change of management last autumn so they are under even more pressure than they were going into the 2013 Championship after losing the 2012 final replay.
They know that and now the response is up to them. They will beat Westmeath, probably after getting a fright or two. Westmeath hurling is on a high at present and while the seniors didn't make it into Division 1B, they have developed into a solid outfit under Michael Ryan.
New Galway manager Micheal Donoghue would have been disappointed with a poor League campaign but he realised from the start that ultimately this year was always going to be about the Championship.
He needs to know by now what's his best team for the Championship, get it working as well as possible tomorrow, win the game and move on.
The big tests lie ahead but Galway need to show that the basics for a strong and prolonged campaign are in order.
Laois are also facing their first Championship outing, whereas Offaly have had three games. The fine-tuning that comes from playing games is always better than what you get on the training field, which could prove to be the difference in Tullamore.
Laois beat Offaly in last year's Leinster Championship, which will give them lots of encouragement. However, it will also provide Offaly with a mighty incentive as losing for a second successive year - at home this time - would be a serious setback. I doubt if it will happen.