Kerry's worry is that Galway won't be bothered

Paul Brennan wonders and worries about how much Galway are prepared to invest in beating Monaghan, which isn't good news for Kerry

Monaghan’s Jack McCarron is tackled by Cathal Sweeney, Eamonn Brannigan and Paul Conroy of Galway during their NFL meeting at Pearse Stadium in Galway back in March. Photo by Sportsfile
Monaghan’s Jack McCarron is tackled by Cathal Sweeney, Eamonn Brannigan and Paul Conroy of Galway during their NFL meeting at Pearse Stadium in Galway back in March. Photo by Sportsfile

Your enemy's enemy isn't always your friend and Kerry football might well learn that to their extreme cost next Saturday evening. With the assumption - and necessity - that Kerry will take care of their own business by beating Kildare by the required five or more points in Killarney, all eyes and ears will be acutely tuned into events in Pearse Stadium in Salthill where Galway engage Monaghan in their Group One top of the table clash.

In this fixture Monaghan are the enemy as far as Kerry is concerned, and just as with their meeting in Clones ten days ago, it's still in Monaghan's own hands whether or not Kerry stay in the Championship by Saturday night. A Monaghan win or draw and Kerry are out.

That should then make Galway Kerry's 'friend' next Saturday, with every Kerry person egging on Galway to do what many expect them to do: win a Championship at home on the back of five Championship wins already. But here's the kicker: how much is it reasonable to expect Galway to invest in a game - really invest in a game - they don't actually need to win, especially with an All-Ireland semi-final presenting itself to them seven days later?

We asked the question of Eamonn Fitzmaurice last week if he could understand or appreciate if Galway weren't completely invested in beating Monaghan? Or, to put it another way, would Fitzmaurice (or any manager) be prepared to box clever in terms of team selection and girding his players for the fight in the circumstances that Galway find themselves in?

Galway are already qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals, which take place the weekend after next. It's a luxury only they and Dublin going into the third and final round of the Super 8s. The general consensus is that Galway will go out to beat Monaghan because (a) they will want to top Group 1 and thereby avoid playing All-Ireland champions Dublin in the semi-final, and (b) they will want to maintain their unbeaten run in the Championship and carry that momentum into the penultimate weekend of matches.

Both are reasonable arguments from the outside, but look at it from Kevin Walsh's perspective. Galway have already qualified for the county's first All-Ireland semi-final since 2001, but Walsh - a Galway player back then - won't regard their next semi-final as bonus territory for his team. This Galway team are in it to win it now, and they've as much right as every other team, including Dublin, left in the Championship to really believe they can win it outright.

It's generally accepted that if a team other than Dublin wins the All-Ireland this year then they're going to have to beat Dublin along the way. Does it really make sense for Galway to try to avoid Dublin in the semi-finals only to most likely run into them in the All-Ireland Final?

Dublin manager Jim Gavin won't know his team's semi-final opponent until late on Saturday evening - less than seven days before that semi-final takes place. Dublin still have to get their last Super 8 game out of the way on Sunday afternoon, meaning Gavin and his staff will have just six days to analyse and plan for their opponent. Meet Dublin in the All-Ireland Final and Gavin has three weeks to hatch his plans for you. Of course that works both ways, but which scenario do you think Kevin Walsh would prefer?

Remember, too, that the last time any Dublin team was beaten in Championship football was in an All-Ireland semi-final.

As for the argument that Galway would want to beat Monaghan to carry winning momentum into the following week - well, that doesn't really matter if all concerned know and appreciate why they have lost the game in question.

Monaghan, of course, travel to Salthill with their Championship lives on the line. Malachy O'Rourke doesn't need to tell his players what's at stake here, and we absolutely know that the Monaghan players will throw themselves full long into the game in order to get the result that carries the county to its first All-Ireland semi-final since 1988.

So what if Monaghan are ahead by four or five points heading in the last 10 minutes? How great will Galway's desire be to leave every last ounce on the field - as they had to do against Kerry and Kildare in their last two games - in order to reel in and beat Monaghan? Will Walsh be asking Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh, Thomas Flynn, Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and the rest of his players to throw the hammer after the hatchet against Monaghan with the prospect of facing the All-Ireland champions a week later, or indeed, a Donegal or Tyrone team that will also present a hugely difficult game for the Tribesmen?

With that in mind Walsh might even consider not playing key men like Comer or Walsh, or if he does start them he could justifiably decide to cut his loses at, say, half-time - regardless of the scoreline in Salthill - and call ashore some key men. Imagine the consternation around the team and county if Comer or Walsh or Flynn picked up an injury chasing down a Monaghan man, or worse still reacted to a provocation and picked up a red card and a suspension ahead of their semi-final.

These are the considerations the Galway management must consider ahead of and during next Saturday's match.

What Kerry must hope for is that Walsh and his men consider none of them, and just go out and play the game for what it is: a home Championship game that Galway are more than capable of winning if they've a mind to. Furthermore, Kerry must then hope that Galway do win the game, thereby dragging the Kingdom into the last four of the Championship almost in spite of themselves.

And what about a draw? Stalemate in Salthill would, of course, keep the status quo at the top of the table with Galway still going through as Group winners with Monaghan through as runners-up. Such a result could lead to suggestions of a cosy arrangement between Galway and Monaghan, and even if nothing has been agreed in advance could either team be blamed if with the teams level on scores after, say 65 minutes, that neither really, properly goes looking for a winning score?

We're not suggesting for a moment that any two counties would ever be in cahoots on such an arrangement, but anyone who follows the last round or two of any county league in the country will be familiar with how more than a few convenient draws pop up that benefits both teams.

Your enemy's enemy isn't necessarily your friend, but on this occasion Kerry will be looking for a favour from Galway against Monaghan. The problem and fear for Kerry, alas, is that so far they've been friendless in these Super 8s.