Shane O'Neill set to face native county
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 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."