IN 2016, Galway and Cork met in Loughgeorge, Galway’s training base in Claregalway, in an U14 challenge game.
Cork won well that afternoon but it was merely a starting point for an annual meeting between most of those players.
The sides have met twice in challenge games already this year but, with this Cork management having worked with most of these players up through the grades, they have a better inside knowledge of these Galway players than most.
Ahead of tomorrow’s All-Ireland minor final, both of these sides would have begun the season with strong expectations. Last year’s Galway minor side, which reached the All-Ireland final, had more big names than the current side. Only four of the player which featured against Kerry last September – Tom Culhane, Donie Halleran, Daniel Cox and Cian Hernon - remain.
Defeat to Roscommon in their opening game was a big setback but this side was still highly rated. This Cork team was rated even higher, especially after doing so well through the underage grades, but that status was up for review after Kerry whacked Cork by 16 points in their opening match.
The general belief afterwards was that whoever beat Kerry would win the All-Ireland. Cork had two opportunities to do so but once Galway took out Kerry, the perception was that they had done a lot of the hard work for Cork.
“You’d imagine that Cork would fancy their chances against us, but that would be a natural feeling because of what Kerry have done over the last number of years,” said Galway manager, Dónal Ó Fátharta.
“Cork are in a good place right now. It’s going to be difficult to contain them but we like to think that we’ve a bit of pace in our forward line. The goal will be to stay in the game as long as we can, to contain Cork as best we can, and we have good forwards with a bit of pace that can hurt a lot of teams.”
One noticeable difference between the teams though, is the comparative goal rate.
If you remove the five goals Galway hit in a rout against a weak Leitrim side, Galway have hit six goals in their other six games. Cork meanwhile, have bagged 13 goals in five games.
Three goals got Cork out of a tight spot against Clare in Ennis in May, while they’ve nailed seven goals in their last two matches against Monaghan and Mayo sides which had been parsimonious in their own provinces.
Monaghan had only coughed up 1-11 to Tyrone in the Ulster final and they went into their All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork with huge momentum after having won five matches. Monaghan’s average concession rate in Ulster was just 1-9. And then Cork hit them for 3-19.
Mayo had lost two matches in Connacht — to Galway and Sligo — but they showed huge character when returning to reverse those results, defeating Galway in the final by one point in extra-time.
Dublin were narrowly beaten in the Leinster final by Kildare but Mayo’s tally of 5-12 against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final hinted at a team with serious firepower. What’s more, they went into the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork with the advantage of the huge Mayo support behind them.
Cork did get two goals off two poor Mayo kick-outs but they were ahead of Mayo in most of the key stats categories; they had more scoring chances (26-24), they didn’t turn the ball over as often, while Cork won marginally more of their own kick-outs than Mayo did.
Cork had more wides (8-7) but they were clinical when the goal chances arose.
One area Cork will need to improve on though, is their concession of frees. Some of it may have been strategic fouling but Cork conceded 10 more frees than Mayo in the semi-final.
And that could be costly with a free-taker of Tomo Culhane’s class for Galway. What’s more, Galway were supremely disciplined against Kerry, coughing up just six frees (in total).
Over the 60 plus minutes, Kerry didn’t manage a single score from placed balls.
On the other hand, all but one point of Cork’s total of 4-12 against Mayo came from play, while Galway did ride their luck against Kerry.
The Munster champions had more scoring chances (33-28) than Galway but they were far more profligate, kicking 13 wides, dropping three balls into the keeper’s arms, while four goal chances yielded just two points.
Yet any suggestion that Galway were lucky to reach the final is well misplaced because, after withstanding Kerry’s scoring blitz within the opening two minutes of the second half, Galway outscored their opponents by 0-7 to 0-3 from there to the finish.
Kerry should have scored more but their scoring total that afternoon — 0-13 — matched Galway’s average concession rate all season. Conversely, Galway have been averaging 17 scores per game.
Galway have shown a serious level of resilience all summer; after losing to Roscommon and Mayo, Galway survived against an impressive Sligo side (which had beaten Mayo) despite being reduced to 14 men for most of a must-win match. Galway beat Mayo in in Castlebar, in another high stakes match where defeat would have ended their season.
The narrow Connacht final defeat steeled them for the All-Ireland series when defeating a highly rated Kildare side, and a Kerry outfit expected to win a sixth All-Ireland on the trot.
Any side which beats Kerry at minor level now has to have the massive pedigree and potential. But Cork have long known as much about this Galway group.