Galway to answer questions

 

All-Ireland SFC Quarter-finals: One thing both of this afternoon's matches have in common is a team for whom this season has already been something of a redemption. The pathos of Donegal players beseeching a most reluctant Brian McEniff to take on the management mantle last winter was the low point of a year which had included many of the team abdicating all responsibility when in sight of an All-Ireland semi-final. Seán Moran reports.

McEniff's previous three stints as manager had all begun with winning an Ulster title. That trend wasn't maintained but he has arguably achieved just as much this year by restoring morale and discipline and cajoling his side back to where everything went wrong a year ago.

The pity of 12 months ago was that Donegal had found surprisingly good form on the new Croke Park pitch and looked, on the evidence of the drawn match, to have the measure of a Dublin side who were kept alive by Ray Cosgrove's goals.

Galway are, however, a different proposition to Dublin or the Meath side that were Donegal's other Croke Park victims in 2002. Since John O'Mahony took over as manager Galway have lost only two out of 10 visits to Croke Park, both to Kerry - last year's defeat was every bit as humiliating as Donegal's replay a fortnight later.

The Connacht champions are a big occasion team. The question for this afternoon is whether they have the form. There are a couple of disadvantages about coming out of the western province.

One, the number of counties is small and the level of competition predictable. Two, the gap between winning the title and the next match is long and tiresome.

The county's two recent All-Irelands were won, respectively, before the qualifier system created these disadvantages and then by exploiting it two years ago.

There are a couple of new faces in the team and that is good but the old influences aren't what they were.

Kevin Walsh has been coasting in Connacht and as the - much underrated - strongest influence on the team over the two All-Ireland wins, more will be needed from him now that the championship's for real.

Walsh's reading of the game, positioning for kick-outs and orchestration of forward movement are particularly important against a mobile Donegal pairing, supplemented for today by Paul McGonigle, a rare example of a specialist third centrefielder.

Joe Bergin may have to curb his adventurous instincts but he will also create defensive pressures for his markers.

Padhraic Joyce is another who appears to be saving his best form for the big stage but it has also been noted in the county that the team's attacking pattern isn't as focused on him since Matthew Clancy, a running ball player rather than a distributor, took over at centre forward.

O'Mahony's big medium term challenge is to take Galway into a new generation, based on last year's All-Ireland winning under-21s, without losing their status as contenders. He's moving in that direction.

Nine of this afternoon's side weren't on the team that started the 1998 All-Ireland final.

The remaining six are all in the same position, a significant consideration in the case of Michael Donnellan returned to wing forward after three years.

The aborting of his centre back experiment is probably for the best, certainly this year, but it leaves the conundrum unsolved.

O'Mahony's teams have never been settled at centre back. John Divilly hasn't been able to hold his place.

The now retired Tomás Mannion was simply doing a job that his football and physical strength - which at his peak equipped him for virtually any position - allowed him to do and helped prolong his career.

Richie Fahey is another improvisation but by background is more of a specialist corner back than Mannion ever was. The trumpet blasts that accompany Brendan Devenney's and Adrian Sweeney's big scoring contributions drown out the rest of the attack but Michael Hegarty is a good centre forward and Fahey's future in the new position will be soundly tested.

McEniff has brought his side this far through a qualifier campaign against moderate opposition.

Devenney's injury will concern him because, without the player at his best, Donegal's scoring threat is diminished, particularly as, even when fully fit, he wouldn't count ball winning as his strongest suit.

But of more concern will be the amount conceded along the way. Donegal have scored big totals but conceded them as well - 6-67 against 3-47. Of the other teams to have taken the route only Roscommon, twice after extra time, have conceded Donegal's average 14 points in any of their qualifier matches.

For all the question marks over Galway Donegal don't appear to have the variation in attack or the defensive strength to pull this one out of the hat.

DONEGAL: T Blake; N McCready, R Sweeney, M Crossan; S Carr, B Monaghan, K Cassidy; J Gildea, S McDermott; C Toye, M Hegarty, P McGonigle; B Roper, A Sweeney, B Devenney.

GALWAY: B Donoghue; K Fitzgerald, G Fahey, M Comer; D Meehan, R Fahey, S de Paor; K Walsh, J Bergin; P Clancy, M Clancy, M Donnellan; D Savage, P Joyce, M Meehan.

Paths to the quarter-final: Galway v Donegal

Galway

Connacht quarter-final

Galway 0-12 Roscommon 0-8

Connacht semi-final

Galway 2-13 Leitrim 1-7

Connacht final

Galway 1-14 Mayo 0-13

Played 3. Won 3. Drew 0. Lost 1.

Donegal

Ulster quarter-final

Fermanagh 0-10 Donegal 0-6

Qualifier - round one

Donegal 1-17 Longford 1-11

Qualifier - round two

Donegal 0-16 Sligo 0-11

Qualifier - round three

Donegal 2-19 Tipperary 0-15

Qualifier - round four

Donegal 3-15 Down 2-10

Played 5. Won 4. Drew 0. Lost 1.