Hurlers must learn to be more ruthless up front

The master Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny is challenged by  Galway’s David Collins in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League division one semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick.

The master Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny is challenged by Galway’s David Collins in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League division one semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick.

Páirc na nGael, or the Gaelic Grounds, as it used to be known, on the Ennis Road in Limerick is one of my favourite sporting venues.

It is just a short jaunt from Galway and there is invariably a positive vibe to the place. The Mackey Stand is also a comfortable spot to watch a game.

Even before the league semi-finals last Sunday, there was an almost championship feel to the occasion, especially with the sunshine and supporters from the four counties mixing freely and in good humour.

With Liverpool winning their vital Premier League game before the hurling throw-in, and so many of their supporters it seems, big hurling fans, there was a real sense of high spirits and mutual generosity before the Galway and Kilkenny game.

That sense of bonhomie seemed to infiltrate the Galway forward line as they were extremely kind to the Kilkenny rearguard in the first half, lacking real conviction when goal chances were on, and shooting nine wides in the opening 35 minutes.

Pádraig Brehony, who has had a solid league campaign, missed one glorious goal chance when he hit a "fresh air" with the goal at his mercy, following a sublime hand-pass from Joe Canning.

Such profligacy in front of goal was always likely to come back and haunt the side. Although Galway led by 0-11 to 0-5 at halftime, there was a feeling that Kilkenny would be more ruthless when they had the advantage of a significant breeze in the second half. And that is what came to pass.

Galway lost control around the middle third and Brian Cody's men hit 1-11 to Galway's meagre 0-4 in the second period, and ran out 1-16 to 0-15 winners to qualify for their 10th league final in the past 13 years.

They have won seven of their previous league finals under Cody since 2002, losing the other two to Waterford (2007 ) and Dublin (2011 ).

Despite the defeat there were some distinct positives from a Galway perspective- most notably the solid displays of Daithí Burke at centre-back, Joseph Cooney at wing-back and Ronan Burke at full-back. Colm Callanan continued his excellent form in goal and also hit a stunning free from distance.

Indeed it was not the Galway defence that was the problem last weekend, but the malfunction of the attack that was key to this defeat.

No Galway forward really took the game by the scruff of the neck and Joe Canning was quiet by his usual standards.

It was unusual not to see the Portumna player on free-taking duties (Conor Cooney continued in that role ) and seeing Canning lining out at right corner forward from the start, in place of the injured Niall Healy, left a good few supporters scratching their heads as to what was going on.

Assuming he gets back to his top form, it is very hard to imagine Canning not being in a central position come the Leinster championship. However, getting him back to his free-scoring best is the imperative at this juncture.

Galway were very much in contention in the first half and produced some fine scores when they ran at Kilkenny, particularly Brian Hogan who does not like being put on the back foot.

However, in the second half, once Galway started to lose the middle third, they seemed to drop very deep with Pádraig Walsh, Hogan and Cillian Burns winning a lot of ball in the black and amber half back line.

Galway's striking of the sliotar also left much to be desired at times and there were a few occasions when misdirected clearances and deliveries subsequently led to Kilkenny scores.

Team manager Anthony Cunningham was disappointed to lose, but he focussed on the positives aspects of their display.

"It’s a game we could have won and had enough chances to do so. We’d a lot of good play up front as well, but we will have to be sharper.

“Lads such as Fergal [Moore], Niall [Healy] and Iarla [Tannian] will come back into contention over the next few weeks. Cyril Donnellan will hopefully be back playing club hurling in another two weeks. They will be fresher and that’s the way you want it. It always goes down to performance in training matches, we put a lot on that."

The players are back with their clubs this weekend for the start of the group games in the county championship and Galway have plenty of time to absorb the lessons of last weekend before the start of the Leinster championship in June.

Galway: Colm Callanan (0-1 free ), David Collins, Ronan Burke, Johnny Coen; Aidan Harte, Daithi Burke, Joseph Cooney; Andy Smith (0-2 ), Padraig Brehony; Niall Burke (0-1 ), Conor Cooney 0-8, David Burke (0-1 ); Joe Canning (cpt 0-1 ) , Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion (0-1 ). Subs: Davy Glennon for N. Burke (45 ), Damien Hayes for P. Brehony (54 ), Kevin Hynes for A. Smith (60 ), Jason Flynn for C. Mannion (68 ).

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