GALWAY GAA: (Preview) – KERRY vs GALWAY (Sunday, 2.30pm, Austin Stack Park) 

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They’ve exceeded all expectations after their opening three games and now the tests increase for Galway’s senior footballers when they travel to Kerry on Sunday.

Before the competition, games against Donegal, Kildare and Monaghan were probably earmarked by those foreseeing a Tribal struggle in the top flight of National League Football.  But for those believing that Galway are climbing the ladder again, they would have picked out Mayo, Kerry and Dublin.

The first of those was passed two weeks ago in Pearse Stadium as Galway’s third win came at the expense of their Connacht rivals.  And already St. Patrick’s Weekend plans are in full swing for the visit of the All-Ireland champions to Salthill on March 18th.  But this could be the biggest game!

The Tribesmen are second to Dublin (on scoring difference) but even though Kerry suffered a 1-13 to 0-14 reversal to Monaghan last weekend, nobody in the Galway camp will be underplaying how difficult this game is.

Kerry rarely lose two on the spin; they were missing Sigerson Cup players like midfielders Jack Barry and Barry O’Sullivan against the Farney men; and they haven’t lost to Galway since the 2003 league (nine games ago).

Also, they ended Galway’s 2017 championship with relative ease as despite some key goal chances, Galway followed up their impressive win over Donegal with a tame quarter-final exit to the Kingdom.

The signs are that Galway have improved.  Rory Lavelle’s confidence is back between the sticks; Eoghan Kerin, Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh, Declan Kyne and Johnny Heaney have excelled in defence; as has Paul Conroy in midfield; with Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Eamonn Brannigan breathtaking up front.

And three of those mentioned are full backs, the one-line Galway have been heavily criticised for the last number of years.  Kerry are still finding their feet and summer matters will take precedence over their league title defence but they won’t want to be out of contention with three rounds left.

Ronan Shanahan and Brian O’Beaglaoich were their top defenders against Monaghan; Barry and O’Sullivan will return in the middle; while Sean O’Shea and one David Clifford will need to be marshalled in attack.

It would be their biggest result of 2018 should Galway leave Tralee with their unbeaten status still intact.  But this is their next marker to see how much work remains if they are to establish themselves among the country’s elite again.

A performance that stretches Kerry will be ideal.  But it would be unfair to ignore the home side’s recent track record.

Verdict: Kerry

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