Cathal Mannion in doubt as Galway look to seal Leinster final berth after routine victory

Leinster SHC Round 4: Galway 5-29 Antrim 1-22

Galway's Cathal Mannion leaves the field after picking up an injury against Antrim. Photo: Tom Beary/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Conor McKeon

Cathal Mannion is a doubt for Galway ahead of Sunday’s return to Croke Park to face Dublin in an encounter that Henry Shefflin insisted was effectively a Leinster semi-final.

Mannion, having been tormented by hamstring issues this year, lasted just seven minutes of yesterday’s blow-out victory over Antrim in Pearse Stadium, Salthill.

With Brian Concannon also struggling with a similar affliction, and Fintan Burke taken off as a precaution after suffering a heavy collision yesterday, Shefflin has some selection issues to consider this week.

The Galway manager admitted the situation with Mannion, who missed almost all of their league campaign, was “very disappointing”.

“It felt a bit stiff this week,” he explained, “but everyone wants to play these games and when he went to go, he didn’t feel very comfortable on it.”

The injuries were only real downside to a day when Antrim experimented, Galway won and both teams seemed to already have one eye on next weekend.

So long as they avoid losing to Dublin, Galway will qualify for this year’s Leinster decider.

Antrim, meanwhile, must beat a buoyant Westmeath in Mullingar or face an immediate plunge back to the Joe McDonagh Cup.

“I was just saying to someone, the pressure is starting to ratchet up a little bit,” Shefflin noted. “You’re coming to the knock-out stages.

“We would see next week as a knock-out game because we want to qualify for the Leinster final.

“Dublin want to qualify for the Leinster final. So it should be set up for a good battle between both sides,” he added.

​“That bit of pressure is starting to come. We’re going to see … it’s all nice and dandy up until now.

“Now you’re going to see which teams are going to move forward and which teams are going to step back.”

Galway had a penalty and a goal conceded within a minute yesterday but two first-half goals from Conor Whelan spun the game in the direction it was always set to be heading.

They were his fourth and fifth goals in less to two full matches and after initially struggling with Antrim’s defensive alignment, Galway cut loose thereafter.

“They tried something that we haven’t seen too much before,” Shefflin acknowledged.

“They tried two (extra) men back. Probably took a while to figure out. By the end of the half, we probably got into a bit more of a flow.

“It was double scores at half-time. Got the couple of goals after that. But the concession of 15 points, a lot of unforced errors on our behalf. There was lots to work on and we need to improve.”

Whatever the issue, Galway’s sharpness of finishing wasn’t it. Evan Niland couldn’t miss. Conor Cooney hit 0-7 from play from eight shots.

Corner men, Kevin Cooney (1-2) and Declan McLoughlin (0-4) both warmed to the task also.

“We’d like to play the game fast, with tempo,” noted Shefflin. “But when you look up and you’re striking it in, you see loads of Antrim bodies back.

“It took our lads plenty of time to figure that out,” he continued.

“To be fair to Antrim, when they got the ball inside, they made it stick. And they got plenty of runners off the shoulders as well.

“But look overall, lots to work on but happy enough to get the two points.”

Antrim manager Darren Gleeson admitted the looming visit to Mullingar next week had played on his team’s mind.

He wasn’t aware of Westmeath’s incredible comeback win against Wexford as he spoke, but Antrim now need to beat a Westmeath team understandably high in confidence next weekend to survive into next year’s Leinster championship.

“It’s massively on your mind,” Gleeson said.

“Coming down, it’s an unusual way of preparing for a game. You’re looking to perform but you’re also looking to come off the field unscathed.”

SCORERS – Galway: E Niland (2 ’65, 2fs) 0-8; C Cooney 0-7; C Whelan 2-0; K Cooney, T Monaghan 1-2 each; D McLoughlin 0-4; L Collins 1-0; P Mannion, J Cooney 0-2 each; TJ Brennan, A Touhey 0-1 each. Antrim: C Cunning 1-3 (1-0 pen, 2f); J McNaughton 0-5 (1 ’65, 1f); P Burke, C Johnston 0-3 each; D McKiernan 0-2; K Molloy, E O’Neill, D Nugent, N McKenna, P Boyle, J Maskey 0-1 each.

GALWAY – E Murphy 7; D Burke 7, G McInerney 8, D Morrissey 8; F Burke 6, J Grealish, P Mannion 8; R Glennon 6, J Cooney 8; C Mannion 6, C Cooney 9, K Cooney 7; D McLoughlin 8, E Niland 8, C Whelan 8. Subs: T Monaghan 8 for C Mannion (7 inj), C Fahy 7 for Glennon (58), A Touhey 6 for Burke (54), L Collins 7 for Whelan (54), J Ryan 6 for J Cooney (63).

ANTRIM – T Smyth 5; S Rooney 6, G Walsh 5, P Burke 8; C Boyd 6, N O’Connor 7, R McGarry 6; K Molloy 7, J McNaughton 7; E O’Neill 6, C Cunning 6, D Nugent 5; P Boyle 6, N McKenna 5, C Johnston 6. Subs: P Boyle 6 for Walsh (h-t), J Maskey 6 for Nugent (51), D McKenna 6 for Cunning (51), S Walsh 6 for Molloy (55), A Bradley 6 for O’Neill (63), C McKernan 6 for Burke (65).

REF – M Kennedy (Tipperary).