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By Cian O'Connell

"There was an element of inevitability about it, in a way," Galway manager Shane O'Neill laughs about the fact that a Championship match against his native Limerick is imminent.

Sunday's All Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park is loaded with importance.

"You always felt it was going to happen because we are two of the top teams in the competition, so it was going to happen at some stage," O'Neill adds.

Contact, though, with a raft of his former Na Piarsaigh players and colleagues has been curtailed.

"Obviously, I know the boys very well, particularly the Na Piarsaigh lads and there are seven of them on the squad," O'Neill says.

"I'd be in regular contact, being my own club, we decided that we'd stop after the provincial finals, that there wouldn't be any contact. We haven't had contact for a while."

O'Neill hurled at Under 21 level for Limerick alongside John Kiely and both also featured for the green and white senior team.

"John and I, we were on the Limerick squad in the 90s and we hurled Under 21, lost the Munster final to Cork by a goal," O'Neill recalls.

"I know John well and I know personally. He is an absolute gentleman and has done a great job with Limerick."

In the west O'Neill wants to ensure Galway remain relevant too and is satisfied with the three displays delivered against Wexford, Kilkenny, and Tipperary.

 

Galway manager Shane O'Neill pictured at the LIT Gaelic Grounds last Saturday.
Galway manager Shane O'Neill pictured at the LIT Gaelic Grounds last Saturday.

 

Galway did suffer a Leinster final loss to the Cats sandwiched either side of two victories, but O'Neill is encouraged by the performances.

"Yeah, which is a huge credit to the players to be honest," O'Neill replies.

"They’ve only had a few weeks since the county finals in October, so we had a very short window.

"Sometimes that can help, just that little bit of freshness and not getting bogged down in any particular type of game plan and letting the boys just hurl.

"In fairness, they have hurled very well over the three games but to overcome Limerick we’ll have to go to a different level altogether."

Does the fact that O'Neill holds an in depth knowledge of the Limerick club scene and players carry relevance?

"We would know the players, but that maybe a hindrance in that you might have preconceived ideas about players, and that is like any management going into a particular set-up, as well, having that element of freshness and seeing something different," O'Neill replies.

"I am not too sure if it will make much of a difference. All the teams are playing at an extremely top-class level, all the players are at a top-class level, they are extremely good hurlers.

"The pace of hurling, the skill of hurling, across the board is phenomenal, and Limerick seem to be leading that at the moment."

That Galway summoned an instant response when beating Tipperary following the Kilkenny setback was a real positive according to O'Neill.

"I suppose the biggest one is the fact that we won," O'Neill remarks. "Secondly, it was a different type of game than Kilkenny. I felt that we played better hurling against Kilkenny, we knew it was going to be a tough and tight affair with Tipperary as it always is.

"The positive of it actually showed a bit of true grit to actually come out to win it."

By John Harrington

Galway manager, Shane O’Neill, paid tribute to match-winner Aidan Harte after his team’s stirring All-Ireland SHC quarter-final victory over Tipperary this afternoon.

It was the corner-back’s 66th minute goal that proved to be the decisive score, and he showed a lot of courage to go for it as he had previously missed a couple of other scoring opportunities.

“It was a fantastic finish,” said O’Neil. “I think he had three chances that he didn't convert, but he's played in midfield and half-forwards at underage.

“He had a particular job to do today and he did it exceptionally well. He just happened to find himself in that position and it was a brilliant finish.

“It was an epic encounter. Nothing less was expected when Galway and Tipp play. You've seen the last few championship matches there was only a point in it and again just a puck of a ball effectively in it again. Delighted now to have a crack at next week as well.”

Galway trailed Tipperary by six points early in the second-half but O’Neill never felt the game was slipping away from his team.

“Not particularly, no. I think there wasn't going to much of a panic. The wind is strong enough when you're out in the middle of the pitch. We knew that if we just kept the scoreboard ticking over that we'd be there or there abouts. 

“We felt that maybe we weren't as composed as we should have been in the first half but we were a lot more composed on the ball in the second half.”

Tipperary defender Cathal Barrett was red-carded on 52 minutes, and O’Neill admitted that his departure impacted the game as Joseph Cooney played the spare man role well.

“They normally do, but sometimes they go the other way. The way the game is gone with all the movement of forwards and backs and the whole lot, you saw Aidan Harte up in the full-forward line, it's just the way the game is gone.

“Sometimes that extra man can be nullified. I thought we were trying to get him on the ball and it worked out well.”

Galway advance to the All-Ireland semi-final where they will play O’Neill’s native Limerick next Sunday in Croke Park.

The big question is whether a third tough match in as many weekends will prove a step too far for this Galway team.

“It's about mental recovery more than anything else,” says O’Neill. “It'll be the third week on the trot which is tough. But the boys will be rearing to go again. 

“The scale of the challenge is massive. They're coming with a week off first of all so they have that advantage whereas we're three weeks on the trot.

“Limerick have probably been the best team over the last three years in the country and play an unbelievable style of hurling. They're a very difficult side to play against but the boys will only relish it.”

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