You would be forgiven for forgetting how much Galway football has improved in recent years, given their current standing as one of the main challengers to Dublin.
In 2017, Kevin Walsh led his side to their first win in Croke Park in 16 years as they claimed the Division 2 National League title, securing their place in the top flight. One year later and they were contesting the final of Division 1.
Galway carried their form from the League into an ever more competitive Connacht Championship where they wrestled their title back from Roscommon after their slip up in 2017. Regardless of the way their season ended, reaching the League final and winning Connacht were two major accomplishments for the county and star forward, Shane Walsh, is hungry for more of the same in 2019.
“For us, it was all about maintaining Division 1 status last year, and then trying to wrestle back the Connacht title and for us, we did both of those. We exceeded expectations in the League. For us to get back the Connacht title, seeing how competitive Connacht is, that was huge for us and it’s progression for the team.”
“You’ve a couple of lads there who were in their first year, came in and won a Connacht title. That’s huge going forward. If you can get success in your first couple of years, all it does is make you hungrier for more.”
Though it was the loss in the All Ireland semi-final against Dublin last year that brought their season to a swift end, Walsh may have learned more from the manner in which Galway were beaten by Monaghan in the final game of the Super 8s.
The Kilkerrin-Clonberne man admitted that his side might have taken their eye off the ball, given the fact that they had already qualified for the final four.
“It’s a funny one, because you are building yourself up for the Monaghan game. But at the back of your mind there is that factor that you have qualified out of the group already. We were in an All-Ireland semi-final which this Galway team have never been in before.”
“I think that’s something for us to learn this year going forward. That whatever game is in front of us we hvae to go out and win no matter what. We’re not like the Dubs of the world where we’ve been winning All-Irelands and we can take a game for granted.”
“We can’t do that. We can’t afford to.”
The results of 2018 are parked now and Walsh is looking forward to a fresh season, beginning with the League opener against Cavan on Sunday 27 January.
“It’s all about hitting the ground running. That for us is a big thing. Individually, every player has to look after themselves in that regard. Kevin and the lads are putting plans in place, structures in place for us to move on through that and enhance our performances as we go through the league.”
“It all starts off with yourself. For us, last year it makes it a bit easier, the fact that we had a good year and a good league campaign, to go back in training. We’re looking forward to the year ahead.”
The inter-county famine is about to end, giving way to a nine-week feast of Allianz Football League action between the weekend after next and the four divisional finals in Croke Park on March 30/31. The exciting programme features 116 games across the four divisions in a campaign which will mark the 27th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsor of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest-running sponsorships in Irish sport. In attendance at the Allianz Football League 2019 launch in Dublin were Ryan Wylie of Monaghan, Shane Walsh of Galway and Stephen O’Brien of Kerry.