Mellows look to bridge Galway's urban divide
City hurling clubs across the country have been enjoying renewed success in county championship in recent years.
Na Piarsaigh, based in Caherdavin in Limerick city, have won four senior titles in the last seven years, adding the Munster club title each time, while Ballygunner, on the outskirts of Waterford city, have kept the west of the county at bay with the last four titles there.
In Cork, Blackrock may have lost a county final to divisional side Imokilly but Glen Rovers had the title within the city limits for the previous two years anyway.
In Kilkenny, Dicksboro were back on top of the pile for the first time in 24 years, courtesy of their final win over city rivals James Stephens which helped them to displace the other city club, O'Loughlin Gaels, as champions.
Inevitably, Dublin will produce champions within quick reach of its city centre which has left Galway as hurling's only major urban black spot, certainly in terms of senior county championship success outside Ulster.
That may be about to change however with the return of Liam Mellows to a showpiece Galway final for the first time since 1970, when they were also last champions, and the first time a city club has made it so far since Castlegar in 1987.
For so long Liam Mellows and Castlegar headed Galway's roll of honour until a power shift to the east and south of the county saw the rise of Athenry and Portumna especially with intermittent success for Kiltormer, Sarsfields, Clarinbridge and St Thomas' who went on to win All-Ireland club titles over the last quarter of a century.
That a county could accumulate so much silverware at All-Ireland senior club, and inter-county minor and U-21 without the impetus of a dominant city club underlines just how great that shift has been.
For Liam Mellows, it hasn't been for the want of trying with a number of semi-final appearances to back them up in recent times.
And so many of those Galway teams have been dotted with players from the club that they can call on a team for Sunday's final with near blanket inter-county experience.
The Galway hurling championship is traditionally a punctuated affair but this season has fractured more than ever with a prolonged dispute over the eligibility of a Turloughmore player going all the way to the Disputes Resolution Authority, holding up the championship at a critical time after the September All-Ireland triumph.
Managed by former Clare and Galway trainer Louis Mulqueen, who guided St Joseph's Doora-Barefield to All-Ireland club success in 1999, Liam Mellows have had to be patient and careful in their planning, even taking a six-week break during the summer after playing group championship games in April, May, June and July.
Their only defeat came at the hands of Craughwell in the third round in June. Since then they have rolled up their sleeves to beat Clarinbridge in a quarter-final after a replay, after being six points down in the drawn game and Cappataggle in a physical semi-final by a point.
With that replay Sunday's final will be their ninth match of the campaign that is almost eight months old.
They have benefited from being in an U-21 final last year while departure of David Collins from the Galway senior hurling squad at the end of 2016 allowed him to fully commit to club duties with obvious benefits. He is joint-captain along with another former Galway player, Aengus Callanan.
Tadhg Haran, who also had a spell with the Galway seniors, has been another driving force.
Liam Mellows have been robbed of the services of John Lee, the former centre-back much rated by Ger Loughnane during his two-year spell as manager in 2007 and 2008.
Lee tore a cruciate ligament in June, tried initially to build up muscle to support the damaged ligament but had to abandon that plan and is now slated for surgery later this month.
The club have been progressive in their promotion of hurling, hiring a development coach to serve up to seven schools in the area.
Their return to a county final will provide another obvious promotional spur in an area where hurling has struggled to make a real impact over the last three decades.
They face a Gort side that are warm favourites, having already won two Galway titles in this decade, and who themselves were forced to a replay in the semi-final where they overcame Craughwell.