Galway intent on scratching a 53-year itch
Kerry have dominated Tribesmen since 1965 All-Ireland
It may have been a routine Allianz League game on a bitterly cold afternoon, but victory meant a whole lot more to Galway than just another step up the Division 1 ladder.
Their three-point win over Kerry in Tralee in February marked a significant milestone as their first success over the Kingdom in any senior competition since 2003.
Having earlier beaten Tyrone, Donegal and Mayo, it was regarded as a very important test of Galway's ability to maintain consistency in the top flight, something they achieved most impressively.
Almost five months later, Kerry await them on a much bigger stage and for a far greater prize. While Galway went 15 years without beating Kerry in the league, it's nothing compared to the championship drought, which is now in its 53rd year.
The three-point win in the 1965 All-Ireland final was Galway's last championship triumph over Kerry, who have since beaten the Tribesmen six times and drawn once.
It's a dismal return for Galway, leaving them behind Cork, Dublin, Tyrone, Armagh, Down, Donegal, Meath, Kildare and Clare, all of whom have beaten Kerry in the championship over the past 26 years alone.
Kerry's six wins over Galway in the last 34 years have ranged from reasonably comfortable (four points in the 2000 All-Ireland final replay, five points in the 2008 quarter-final) to downright easy.
Their most recent success last year comes under the latter heading, with Kerry powering to a 1-18 to 0-13 win. It was every bit as easy as the scoreline suggests on a day when Galway suffered their sixth successive quarter-final defeat.
Just as Tipp's Michael Quinlivan had done a year earlier, Kieran Donaghy tormented the Galway full-back line and once he scored a goal in the 13th minute, Kerry were on their way.
Galway missed some clear goal chances which, if converted, might have changed the complexion of the game, but with the memory of a big defeat by Roscommon in the Connacht final still fresh in their minds, confidence dipped alarmingly as the game wore on.
Galway manager Kevin Walsh suggested afterwards that the collapse of the defensive alignment was down to a lack of big-time experience, especially in Croke Park. "We would have liked to get bodies back a bit quicker to help the full-back. It's a huge pitch - some of these guys don't even know the pitch. That's the big difference with likes of Kerry and Dublin, compared to a young Galway side," he said.
A year on - and with a season of Division 1 action, including a meeting with Dublin in the final, behind them - Galway appear to be a much different proposition.
They had the best defensive record in Division 1 and maintained that solidity in the Connacht Championship, conceding an average of 13 points against Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon.
Intriguingly, Kerry averaged a strike rate of almost 30 points per game against Clare and Cork in Munster so something has to give on Sunday.
Kerry's phenomenal productivity in their last two games will have occupied much of Walsh's planning in recent weeks but then Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have concerns too about how his defence copes with the threat posed by Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and various others. Only Kildare, who were relegated after losing all seven games, had a worse defensive record than Kerry in Division 1 this year. Cork hit them for two early goals in the Munster final before having their defensive structures flattened in a 17-point defeat.
The big win sent waves of optimism flowing through Kerry before the true extent of Cork's woes were highlighted last Saturday when Tyrone hit them for 3-20, while also missing several good chances.
It leaves Kerry coming to Croke Park not knowing where they really stand.
They always expect to raise their game there and with their highly-rated forwards having convinced their supporters that they can launch a new and exciting era, Kerry are 4/11 favourites, with Galway 3/1.
The only logical basis for such a wide disparity is that the public continue to have serious doubts about Galway, particularly their ability to escape from Kerry's tight psychological grip.
Croke Park also appears to cast a spell over Galway, who have won only one of 14 league and championship games there since beating Meath in the 2001 All-Ireland final. Their sole success was against Kildare in last year's Division 2 league final.
They have found it very difficult to score goals in Croke Park in recent times, hitting only one (v Tipperary in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final) on their last five visits.
Despite all that, Galway supporters feel that there's something vastly different about the team in a season when they have beaten six of the other seven quarter-finalists as well as Mayo,
The exception is Dublin, who beat Galway by four points in the league final, having earlier drawn with them in Pearse Stadium.
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