Johnny Coen impressed with Galway newcomers
By Cian O’Connell
Johnny Coen is encouraged about the form of emerging young hurlers in Galway. The reigning Allianz Hurling League and All Ireland champions have afforded several promising players an opportunity to shine in Division 1B.
Victories over Antrim, Laois, Offaly, and Dublin have been registered by Galway’s blend of youth and experience under Micheal Donoghue.
Ultimately, it means that an intriguing promotion battle with Limerick will be decided at Pearse Stadium on Sunday according to Coen. “Exactly, one of the advantages of playing in Division 1B is that you get a chance to blood a few new lads,” Loughrea clubman Coen says.
“The team in the Championship last year didn't change a whole lot, but we put great emphasis on the panel, pushing for places, all of that sort of stuff.
“Since January Micheal and his backroom team have given the lads a great chance. We have four from four so it sets up a very interesting game on Sunday.”
John Kiely’s Limerick are next on the agenda for Galway and Coen expects a demanding contest in Salthil. “They have shown good form, they have beaten all the same teams we have beaten,” Coen states.
“They have racked up much greater scores so nothing, but a win will be sufficient for us. We were very disappointed last year not getting promoted to Division 1A. It is definitely a game we are looking forward to on Sunday.
“We have brought in around seven new panel members, brand new, they have been given their chances.
“The likes of Shane Cooney and Brian Concannon have really grabbed it with both hands, they are full value for their place. They have been playing well throughout the campaign and they are valued members of the squad really.”
Since losing to Wexford in 2017 - a result which denied Galway promotion – the Tribesmen have won 15 League and Championship matches on the spin.
It was a rude awakening for some of us and we are hoping that we aren't looking back like we did last year.
“It was a blow, you look back on it, February last year, it could have been a defining moment really,” Coen remarks about the Wexford setback.
“The Waterford match is the one people talk about, inside in the Stadium, the Quarter-Final, but the Wexford loss did set us back. It put things in perspective, where we were and that we really needed to train that bit harder, to finish off teams that bit better.
“We were seven or eight points up in that match and still we lost the game. It was a rude awakening for some of us and we are hoping that we aren't looking back like we did last year.”
Coen acknowledges that there was a different dynamic returning to training this winter. “The League started at the end of January so it was earlier and with the Championship changed to a round robin system there was going to be changes,” Coen adds.
“Lukasz (Kirszenstein) and his physical team they have tailored our training sessions towards that, it is unknown territory for everybody. We are looking forward to this game and hopefully the next game as well. Realistically we are all looking towards Championship where you could be playing four weekends in a row.
“Your panel will really be tested, you aren't going to have the same 15 guys playing week in, week out. With the high intensity matches that are being played these days you are bound to suffer from broken hands or fingers, dead legs or niggly injuries. That is when you need your 22, 23, 24 lads to be pushing for places all of the time.”
The Galway players and management are keen to park what happened during a silverware laden adventure last year, the focus is very much on the present. “There was a huge euphoria around the county when we won the All Ireland,” Coen accepts.
“When we came back after Christmas 2017 was over and the new campaign was beginning. With the run of games in Division 1B it has given us the opportunity to build a bit of momentum, build a bit of form. The opposition will be that bit harder as the games go on, but that is what you want, to be testing yourself against the best.”
With the hard working continuing Coen is excited about the prospect of performing in the revamped Championship. The St Brigid’s Loughrea schoolteacher believes it is a positive development.
“I think so, there was times when you'd be playing a game and you mightn't be playing for another four or five weeks,” Coen says.
“Realistically we want to be playing matches, expressing our talents and showing the nation what we are about, and why we are training for so long. Especially with Galway we are delighted to be playing games in Pearse Stadium, we have two very big encounters coming up and we are relishing the task.”
A fascinating summer edges closer.