Date with destiny for Galway senior hurlers

The All Ireland semi-final Galway squad: Back row, left to right, Éanna Burke, Pádraig Brehony, Fergal Moore, Jason Flynn, Shane Moloney, Pádraig Mannion, Colm Callanan, 
James Skehill, Gearoid McInerney, Conor Whelan, Dean Higgins, Joseph Cooney, Cyril Donnellan, Daithí Burke, Colm Flynn, Joe Keane, Ronan Burke.
Front row, left to right, Niall Healy, Greg Lally,Jonathan Glynn, Joe Canning, David Burke, Iarla Tannian, John Hanbury, Aidan Harte, Johnny Coen, Andy Smith, Cathal Mannion, Paul Killeen, David Collins, Paul Flaherty.

The All Ireland semi-final Galway squad: Back row, left to right, Éanna Burke, Pádraig Brehony, Fergal Moore, Jason Flynn, Shane Moloney, Pádraig Mannion, Colm Callanan, James Skehill, Gearoid McInerney, Conor Whelan, Dean Higgins, Joseph Cooney, Cyril Donnellan, Daithí Burke, Colm Flynn, Joe Keane, Ronan Burke. Front row, left to right, Niall Healy, Greg Lally,Jonathan Glynn, Joe Canning, David Burke, Iarla Tannian, John Hanbury, Aidan Harte, Johnny Coen, Andy Smith, Cathal Mannion, Paul Killeen, David Collins, Paul Flaherty.

Cycling home from work in Galway city to Moycullen on Tuesday evening, the same car passed me three times in the ongoing traffic jam that has existed at the edge of the Connemara village for the past nine months.

Each time, I looked at the back window, and read the number plate, 151 G LIAM.

Next Sunday afternoon at Croke Park (3.30pm ), Anthony Cunningham's Galway panel will do battle with Brian Cody's Kilkenny, and by 5pm, we will know if that number plate, and the many others that are springing up like mushrooms, will prove prophetic, or just another maroon mirage.

Many of us were up in the big house for All-Ireland finals in 1990, 1993, 2001, 2005 and 2012 (twice ) and know the pain of the journey home in defeat.

However, now once again the Galway faithful believe this Sunday is the day the hurling Gods will relent, and the county will see David Collins lift the Liam McCarthy for only the fifth time.  No doubt Brian Cody, TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and their captain Joey Holden, will have a different perspective on what is going to take place in three days.

Galway must improve to win

Galway were superb at times against Tipperary, and the second half will probably be one of the best, if not the best, 40 minutes of sporting endeavour any of us will see this year.

That said, team manager Anthony Cunningham acknowledges his team will have to improve on that performance if they are  to collect the first senior hurling All-Ireland since 1988.

The bitter taste of defeat from 2012 in the replay is easily risen and the lessons of that loss should help the team to steel themselves for the battle that lies ahead.

Cunningham will also have learnt from what happened in those 140 minutes of hurling three years ago.

"In 2012 we didn't improve enough from a semi-final to a final to win it and we don't want to make that mistake this year. We must improve again and there were aspects of the play against Tipperary and from the Leinster  final we want to improve on."

"For us, it's how you hone in on your game irrespective of what goes on around you. That's the big thing for us."

Facing 2/1 on favourites Kilkenny is a big challenge and the Cats have not been beaten in an All-Ireland final since 2010, when Tipperary defeated them by 4-17 to 1-18 in an epic encounter.

Lar Corbett hit three goals that day and, if a Galway player was to do something similar in three days' time, there are few who would not predict a Galway victory.

Cunningham has huge respect for Kilkenny, their manager, and what they have achieved in his tenure.

"They are the boys who've brought the level of All Ireland finals and championship wins to the level it is at really. They are the standard bearers. You have to give huge credit to Brian Cody and to the players. There are fantastic players in Kilkenny and a great management set up. They have raised the bar for us all. We will have to improve on what we have achieved already this year to beat them. We definitely know and believe we are good enough to win next Sunday, but you have to perform on the day."

Galway's work-rate will have to be huge

In order to win the Galway forwards will have to maintain their phenomenal work-rate and stop the Kilkenny defenders from having any time on the ball. The Kilkenny half-back line of Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce and Cillian Buckley have to be penned back and not allowed clear ball with accuracy.

Johnathan Glynn and Cyril Donnellan may not have troubled the umpires against Tipperary, but their work-rate and intensity in chasing down the opposition was hugely important. It is often unseen work, but without it, a team is going nowhere.

The entire Galway forward unit will have to tear into the Kilkenny defenders and put them on the back foot. Again, and again.

All the Kilkenny forwards are capable of doing damage, but whoever is given the task of nullifying TJ Reid and Richie Hogan will have a big job of work to do.

The ease with which Séamus Callanan plucked the sliotar out of the sky for his three goals the last day has to be a worry, but no doubt that Achilles' heel in the full-back line has been worked on regularly in training sessions since the semi-final.

Whether it is John Hanbury or Pádraig Mannion in the full-back position, the Kilkenny full-forward must not be allowed catch the ball, swivel, and drive for Colm Callanan's goal.

Leaders all over the field

Galway will need leaders all over the field on Sunday to get over the winning line. Guys like Joe Canning, David Burke, Johnny Coen, Andy Smith, Daithí Burke and big Iarla Tannian will have to go out and really dominate their individual positions and then expect the younger lads like the Mannions, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan to follow suit. The impact the Galway subs make off the bench is likely to be crucial too.

Predicting a win over Kilkenny is not an easy thing to do and most pundits such as Eddie Brennan and Tomás Mulcahy and a few others have already plugged for another Kilkenny victory, which would be four All-Irelands out of five years.

Three years ago when the Cats beat Galway in a replay Kilkenny had JJ Delaney at full-back and Henry Shefflin at centre-forward. Those two men won a staggering 18 All-Star awards between them and were huge in stopping Galway that season. However, they are gone, and that is a plus for Galway.

Galway have more scoring power than they had in 2012 too, with Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and young Conor Whelan supporting Canning in the scoring stakes.

There is something about Galway this year. They look like men on a mission. They have a steeliness about them that has impressed.

They believe. And genuine belief is a big thing in sport. They don't look like they are for turning.

Hopefully if they match that belief with a top class performance, that 151 G LIAM number plate will have become a reality by next Sunday afternoon.

Galway to finish the job.

Advertisement

 

Page generated in 0.1034 seconds.