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The warm weather training in Portugal last weekend will stand to us, and I fully expect the lads to put in a focused performance.

O'Connor Park next Sunday afternoon will be a far cry from the sunny climes of Portugal but all of the lads who travelled to our warm weather training last weekend are fully aware of the implications of our relegation play-off against Galway in Tullamore.

We've been away for the past five days and it has been very beneficial in terms of getting good quality training in ahead of what is a huge game for us and of course for our opponents.

Both teams would rightly consider themselves in the top six within the country so for either side to fall out of Division 1A would be a huge blow, not just for this year's championship but for the prolonged development of the teams.

Galway have been quite similar to us in that they've mixed some good league performances with some poor ones and nobody who saw their second-half comeback against Cork would have foreseen their troubles since then.

I genuinely believe that the game is probably coming at the right time for Galway, injury-wise at least, with Joe Canning expected to line-out and that will obviously be a massive boost, given how central he is to their chances.

We would probably be slightly behind them in terms of injuries but from a personal level, it has been very beneficial for Tomás (Brady), Stephen (Hiney) and myself to join the panel in Portugal and the morale within the panel has been its usual positive vibe.

The whole trip could not have been timed better as far as we're concerned, especially given the disappointment the panel felt after losing to Waterford.

We didn't play anywhere close to our abilities that day so the chance to get away and prepare for Galway has been a huge boost for the panel and I would expect a marked improvement in our performance on Sunday in Tullamore.

I cannot overestimate how important this match is and it is definitely our biggest game since last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. In some ways, our championship starts here as it is certain to have those same degrees of appetite and intensity that you would expect to find later in the summer.

That depressing day in Salthill seems like a long time ago and I wouldn't attach any significance to it in terms of next Sunday's game.

Our first day out against Galway didn't go particularly well but we'd like to think that we've improved from then and of course it has given Anthony Daly an opportunity to assess the strength in depth of a panel that is crucial at this level.

Because of injuries the manager has probably given more game time to certain players that he mightn't necessarily have done otherwise and there have been huge bonuses to him in relation to the form of certain players.

Of course, Danny Sutcliffe has earned much praise for his displays so far and rightly so but I've been hugely impressed with both Ruairí Trainor and Paul Schutte, who have come into the full-back line and established themselves as first-choice players.

I would imagine that both Ruairí and Paul will be in strong contention for starting in the championship and that is a huge positive to take from the league.

Our panel needs to be similar to those of the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary where everyone in the panel is fighting for starting spots and that our substitutes can be brought on and have a massive influence on a game.

Of course, I won't be getting any special treatment once I complete my rehab but I'm more than happy with the depth that we've developed in recent years and that's why Sunday's game is so pivotal to how the panel develops as we need to be playing against the best teams all the time. Hopefully, the next league match I play will be in Division 1A and I fully expect the lads to put in a focussed and impressive performance.

DESPITE Dublin failing to make the NFL semi-finals last Sunday, there was a further boost for football in the county when the county's under-21 footballers captured the Leinster championship last Wednesday night with another impressive display against Louth. I was fortunate to have Jim Gavin as co-manager when we won the U21 All-Ireland back in 2003 and I cannot speak highly enough of him as a coach.

He is meticulous in his preparation and leaves absolutely nothing to chance and his management and knowledge of football at this level is outstanding.

I'm delighted for him and the panel that they've regained Leinster after last year's blip against Meath and despite all the plaudits being afforded his team at present, there is no better man to keep the panel level-headed ahead of much tougher assignments in the coming weeks.


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