In the tangled web of figuring out who exactly wants what from the league, Paul Conroy says Galway’s intentions are uncomplicated: the Tribesmen want to contest a league final.
Galway welcome Kerry to Salthill on Sunday for what is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland senior football final, but in its own right this is a Division One league game with a significant amount riding on the outcome.
A win or a draw for Galway would see them advance to a league final against Mayo – just three weeks before the counties could potentially face off in a Connacht semi-final.
Galway currently have eight points in Division One, followed closely by Kerry, Tyrone and Roscommon all on six. If Kerry beat the Tribesmen at Pearse Stadium then on a straight head-to-head basis the Kingdom would leapfrog Galway in the standings. However, were either or both of Tyrone and Roscommon to also win, then second place would need to be determined by scoring difference.
Galway enter the final round of games with a scoring difference of +10, Kerry +4, Tyrone +1 and Roscommon +1. The cleanest outcome for Galway would be to avoid defeat on Sunday, but there is a school of thought that Pádraic Joyce’s men might not necessarily be overly enraptured about the prospect of meeting Mayo on the eve of the championship. But that is not a theory Conroy puts any stock in whatsoever.
“We haven’t any Division One league medals in our dressingroom and we don’t have the challenge of being out the week after,” says the 33-year-old midfielder.
“So, we’re just trying to go out and win every game and improve our performance; so obviously we have a massive one coming this weekend against Kerry.
“We are definitely in a position where we would like an extra game and it would be great to get a game early in Croke Park, if we are good enough.”
Galway’s last Division One league football title success was way back in 1981, while their most recent appearance in the final was a 2018 defeat to Dublin.
Conroy is one of the most experienced players in the country, having made his Galway senior debut in 2008. He has started all six of their league games this term and feels Galway’s form has improved as the competition progressed.
“The first couple of games were probably a little bit up and down, the draw with Mayo the first day out and then we lost to Roscommon,” he recalls. “There was a break then and since we’ve come back it has been good in fairness. A little bit inconsistent early on but the last couple of games have been very positive.”
The biggest concern arising from the Roscommon defeat was a knee injury suffered by Damien Comer, which thankfully proved not to be as serious as initially feared.
“Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as they first thought,” says Conroy. “The end of the league will probably come too early for him but he should be okay come championship.”
Overall, 2022 was a positive year for Galway – they won promotion from Division Two, claimed the Connacht SFC, and went all the way to a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2001. They came up short in that decider, but it was a season of progress for the Tribesmen – and one Conroy thoroughly enjoyed.
“I have been a good few years around and we hadn’t reached that stage,” he says. “You put a lot of years in and you need to try to enjoy it.
“It was a funny year. Obviously the Armagh game was crazy, finishing on penalties, but once you got over that it opened up and obviously Derry were flying it as well, we did well to come out on top that day.
“Then the final itself, obviously very disappointed to have lost it but you’d like to think that you can learn from it, use the positives and try to get to the same level again and see where that brings you.”
Conroy watched the final over the Christmas period and, while it made for difficult viewing, he did not spend too much time dwelling on it and does not believe that match will have any impact on events at Salthill this weekend.
“It’s hard to watch back and stuff like that, but I suppose you just have to take the learnings from it, really,” he says. “Try and go again, because you can’t be feeling sorry for yourself or thinking about last year.
“A lot of players say the same thing, if you take your eye off the ball in terms of the performance and the actual game itself, you ultimately won’t be doing what you should be doing on the pitch. I think when every team look at themselves they would see areas where they could improve and we’re the same.
“I’m sure Kerry can get better, I’m sure all the other teams who were in the latter end of the championship will feel they can get better.
“It’s really important that we just mind our own corner and keep trying to improve because there are teams who maybe weren’t involved towards the latter end of the championship that will be involved this year, that’s the reality of it, and if you are not developing or getting better then you are going to be left behind.”
– Paul Conroy is a John West Féile 2023 Ambassador.