GALWAY GAA (Preview): OFFALY vs GALWAY (Saturday, 7pm O’Connor Park) 

18 June 2017; Niall Burke of Galway in action against Oisín Kelly of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Galway and Offaly at O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Co Laois. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

After their clean sweep and historic achievements in 2017, it’s hard to gauge where Galway are ahead of their opening championship game in 2018. 

Understandably, they were never going to hit the ground running in the league after a winter of celebrating and holidays.  And they came up the wrong side of their two biggest tests against Limerick and Wexford.

That being said, the Tribesmen were competitive in both contests and with many of their All-Ireland stars including David and Daithi Burke, and Joe Canning absent for most of the spring, they could be perfectly placed to repeat their successes of last year.

It’s a new era with a five-team group determining the Leinster finalists and a third team to contest the knock out stages.  And while Munster is considered ultra-competitive, the general feeling in the eastern province is that Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford are just deciding their order of finishing.

Offaly’s key game will be their clash with Dublin in what is likely to decide who gets relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup (unless Kerry when the second tier).  But the Faithful county enter the summer in a positive frame of mind having run Kilkenny to two points in the league quarter-final.

Two-time All-Ireland winner Kevin Martin has taken the reins and they finished third Division 1B.  And back in the set up are experienced campaigners Colin Egan, Dan Currams and Conor Mahon.

Add in Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin, along with the impressive performances of Ben Conneely, and Offaly will be looking up rather than down hoping to spring a home surprise on the reigning All-Ireland champions.

But the summer is a different pace and Galway are conditioned for the heat of championship battle after consistently strong displays over the last three years.  They beat Offaly 0-33 to 1-11 in 2017 and followed that up in the spring with a 2-19 to 0-14 win in Pearse Stadium.

Colm Callanan is injured but James Skehill is qualified to fill the goalkeeping spot; Gearoid McInerney, Daithi Burke and Padraic Mannion lead the defence though Adrian Tuohey and Aidan Harte are solid also.

David Burke will take his midfield position alongside Johnny Coen but Sean Loftus is a strong contender.  Up front, Conor and Joseph Cooney, Cathal Mannion, Conor Whelan and Canning strike fear into any opposition.

Based on recent form, this should be closer than their last two meetings but the Tribesmen have a chance to lay down a marker ahead of what’s considered to be closest race for All-Ireland honours for many years.

They are 1/50 favourites to take the two points before they host Kilkenny in Pearse Stadium two weeks later.  The 14/1 odds against Offaly appear harsh but the result should be immaterial nonetheless.

Verdict: Galway