HomeFootballForget Galway’s glittering attacking talent, they have the meanest defence in the...

Forget Galway’s glittering attacking talent, they have the meanest defence in the country


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For all the focus on Galway’s glittering attacking talent, it is at the other end of the field where the Tribesmen are currently standing out from the crowd.

Galway enter the last round of All-Ireland Senior Football Championship group games with the meanest defence in the country – having not conceded a single goal in their last eight games across league and championship.

Of the 16 sides preparing for action this weekend, Galway are the only team not to have conceded a goal over the course of this year’s championship.

Indeed, Galway haven’t shipped a goal since round four of the league way back on February 25th, when they conceded three against Derry. The only other game – league or championship – in which they conceded a goal was their Division One opener against Mayo on the last weekend of January.

Incidentally, both those Mayo and Derry games were played in Pearse Stadium, so Galway haven’t conceded a single goal outside of Salthill.

In 12 games between league and championship, Galway have kept 10 clean sheets and are currently on a shutout run of eight matches without conceding a green flag score.

Since that Derry game in February, Galway have kept clean sheets against Monaghan, Dublin, Kerry, London, Sligo, Mayo, Derry and Westmeath.

“I would think it is something the players are proud of,” says former Galway full back and captain Finian Hanley.

“It’s not easy to keep so many clean sheets, particularly with teams minding the ball so well. We probably shipped one or two chances in certain games – particularly against Mayo, where they could have got goals.

“But I suppose you make your own luck as well by creating that mentality of, ‘we are very hard to score goals against’.”

Galway’s miserliness in defence is all the more noteworthy when you consider the positioning of team captain Seán Kelly this season.

Kelly, nominated for an All Star last year following his displays at full back, has tended to operate from the half-forward line or midfield during this year’s championship. However, a hamstring injury picked up against Derry is a concern for Galway.

Kelly and Damien Comer are Galway’s two most important players, so to have both dealing with injuries again is far from ideal.

Kelly’s ability to organise the defence while launching surging runs forward from deep has been key to Galway’s play in recent years.

But Pádraic Joyce has been able to experiment with Kelly further out the field this season due to Seán Fitzgerald’s strong showings at full back, coupled by the return of Liam Silke (who missed last year as he was in New Zealand) and the dynamic man-marking displays carried out by Johnny McGrath.

“Individually, we have four very good defenders and we have two outstanding defenders,” says Hanley, who is managing Salthill Knocknacarra this season.

“Liam Silke and Johnny McGrath are as good as any defenders in the country and the other four guys are really good footballers, really solid, they can all defend and play.”

The six named to start against Westmeath included a full-back line of McGrath, Fitzgerald and Jack Glynn. Dylan McHugh, John Daly and Silke made up the half-back line, with Connor Gleeson providing the anchor in goal.

But Hanley says it is more than just individual nous, pointing out the tactical evolution of Galway’s game plan which allows them to get players back to ensure the last line of defence is difficult to penetrate.

“What is critical to it all are our hybrids further out the pitch, the likes of John Maher, Cein Darcy and Johnny Heaney, these guys are really good defenders who can get up and down the pitch,” Hanley says.

“Having players out the field like that allows you to fall off that bit quicker, if you have guys who are great tacklers around the middle, it does allow our defenders to sit off and set up in front of goal and that in turn makes life harder for the opposition.”

The highest tally Galway have conceded during the championship has been 0-15 (which both Mayo and Derry registered). In their five championship games the Tribesmen have only conceded an average of 12.8 points per match.

However, this Sunday in Sligo they arguably face their most difficult assignment of the summer as Armagh are one of the form teams in the country right now.

Kieran McGeeney’s men produced their most complete performance of the season in a 3-17 to 0-15 demolition of Derry at Celtic Park two weeks ago.

Armagh have scored six goals in the championship and are averaging 19 points per outing. Something will have to give at Markievicz Park on Sunday.

Irrespective of whether they maintain their unique clean sheet record, the prime target for Galway this weekend is to secure an automatic All-Ireland quarter-final spot, but Armagh also have their eyes on that particular prize.

“I think it’s a huge game, not to put pressure on lads but it’s a huge opportunity because if you finish top of the group it gives you a chance to get Damien and Seán and Robert [Finnerty] back,” says Hanley.

“That break could be really beneficial, and while it still wouldn’t be easy no matter who you’d play there, by finishing top you’d probably avoid a scenario needing to go full tilt against a Kerry or a Dublin in a quarter-final, so it is a huge game on Sunday.”

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