Wednesday 19 December 2018

Cyril Farrell: Galway's reign as league champions is under threat in Wexford Park

Fitness edge and home advantage could provide a winning platform for Fitzy's forces

Galway are favourites to stay in contention to retain the league title, but I suspect they could be on their way out in Wexford Park tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway are favourites to stay in contention to retain the league title, but I suspect they could be on their way out in Wexford Park tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Here's the likely line-up for the league semi-finals next weekend: Kilkenny v Wexford; Limerick v Tipperary.

Tipperary and Kilkenny look certain to be there, but obviously the other two games are much more difficult to call.

Galway are favourites to stay in contention to retain the league title, but I suspect they could be on their way out in Wexford Park tomorrow.

I wasn't surprised to see them losing to Limerick last Sunday. It was obvious from early January that Limerick had a lot of work done, whereas Galway were starting from some way back.

It's hard to win an All-Ireland and what follows is demanding too, especially in a county that hasn't won the title for a long time. It's not just the celebrations, it's also the many other engagements that must be undertaken around the county. And that's before the team holiday and all that goes with it.

Galway were sluggish enough in their four games before meeting Limerick last Sunday and while that will have brought them on, they are facing into a real war against a Wexford team that's very well advanced fitness-wise for this time of year.

They are certainly ahead of Galway on that front and after coming through a tough 1A campaign, their ambitions are rising all the time.

On top of that, the game is in Wexford Park where the home crowd will outnumber Galway, probably by 20 to one. That can count too.

Strange as it might seem to say it, losing tomorrow might be no bad thing for Galway.

Clearly, they have a lot of work ahead and it would be easier to do that in heavy blocks without being interrupted by a league semi-final or final.

No, of course they won't go out to lose tomorrow, but if they do, it won't damage their championship prospects in any way. Instead, they would disappear from view and put in the hard graft which needs to be done over the next month.

Many people were predicting that Wexford would be in relegation trouble this year but I always felt that was unlikely. There was genuine substance to the improvement they made last year and with some new faces aboard this season, there was no reason whatsoever why they wouldn't continue to prosper.

They are well-used to Davy Fitz and his ways by now, so everything is coming more naturally to them. The system took them a certain distance last year, but now the test is to move things on again. No doubt, Davy has multiple plans to make that happen.

At their best, Galway are better than Wexford but may have to wait until later in the year to show that.

Clare v Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds is equally hard to call as both look well-advanced fitness-wise. And while Clare were in the more competitive 1A, recent leagues have shown that teams at the top end of 1B are just as good.

Limerick's style has changed under John Kiely. They would have been noted for a direct approach but are working the ball through the lines much more these days.

Some Limerick supporters are a bit sceptical, but then every system depends on results to be accepted and if Limerick's improvement continues, the fans will buy into what Kiely is doing.

In fairness to him, he had to try something different. The old way wasn't working so he obviously looked at what he had and decided to go with the running game. So far at least, it's working well. And with Na Piarsaigh players to come back in the coming weeks, Kiely's hand will strengthen further.

One area of possible concern for Limerick is whether they can match up physically with some of the other teams later on when everyone is in peak condition. Clare are slotting the jigsaw pieces together nicely too, but with Limerick and their supporters on a high, the mood is right for a home win.

I expect Offaly to deliver a good performance against Kilkenny in Tullamore. The old Offaly spirit seems to be back under Kevin Martin and while rebuilding will take time, it can be done.

Brian Cody will be very happy with Kilkenny's campaign so far. They won their last three games, improving all the way. Many of the new faces are settling in well and, most encouragingly for the supporters, are displaying all the traditional Kilkenny values which always made them so hard to beat.

It has been a good league for Michael Ryan and Tipperary too. He has a lot of talent at his disposal and is using it wisely. The end result will be that when he and his selectors sit down to pick their championship team, they will have more options than most of their rivals.

Dublin have had a slow start but that was always likely to happen. They need a good show against Tipperary tomorrow to give them a lift before heading into the serious championship training.

As for the 1A relegation clash, Cork have home advantage but the momentum has swung Waterford's way.

Irish Independent

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