COMMENTATOR AND ANALYST
Go back to that moment three weeks ago when Barry Kelly blew the final whistle at the end of the All Ireland Hurling Final. A draw. A sharp intake of breath followed. That wasn’t part of the script. Was the glass half full or half empty? With thoughts of Henry Shefflin’s decision to take a point from that penalty and Joe Canning displaying nerves of steel to point the equaliser still swirling in our heads though, the initial reaction was that Galway would take it and move on.
The work for the replay began as soon as the drawn game ended. Anthony Cunningham got into his panel’s mindset straight away in the post match huddle on the pitch – an hour later the panel had a pool session, while they were home that night. Realistically, both teams are in unchartered waters. For the first time since 1959 two teams have had to prepare for a replay. All of the fine tuning was done for the drawn game so how do you deal with another three weeks of preparation?
Recovery would have been the mantra for the first week, last week would have been a working period, while this week the slow wind up begins to another game of energy sapping action. The time could drag though – more training, more planning, and more living in the bubble for the players so whichever team manages to keeps things fresh during the unexpected extension to the season could be crucial.
Both sides have scope for improvement, with ironically both forward lines being the first port of call. Only two Galway forwards – Joe Canning and Niall Burke – scored in the drawn game, while the likes of Eoin Larkin, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Power and Colin Fennelly were well contained by a Galway defence, which though criticised for the concession of goals early in the campaign, has been the bedrock of the last two performances, with no goals conceded.
Galway will also look forensically at their second half performance. Kilkenny got a crucial hold on the game through Henry Shefflin’s herculean leadership when moved to the forty while Brian Hogan and Paul Murphy led a Kilkenny defence that caught Galway into a vice like grip. Kilkenny won the second half 0-12 to 1-4. Have the Cats figured out how to play this Galway system?
That Galway system operates with one forward less and demands great movement, pace and, crucially, accurate deliveries into the forward line. In that second half three weeks ago, too many Galway deliveries were into the heart of the Kilkenny defence with little angled ball into space and the corners. Thus the Kilkenny backs weren’t dragged out of position a la the Leinster Final.
Take the chances
Also, the opportunity to take points from distance will need to be taken. Thirteen points in the drawn game was a low return for 70 minutes, though that tally would have been higher but for a number of missed chances. Taking the scores when they are on demands clinical precision but the Galway forward line has proven it can do this already this summer.
The other much talked about aspect has been the deployment of Joe Canning with the feeling that the more time the outstanding hurler of 2012 spends in around goal the better. Canning, who has been the driving force all season, oozed character to nail the equalising free and no full back line would like to spend most of 70 minutes in his company, so you would expect to see him closer to goal for longer on Sunday. The likelihood is that Cody will deploy Shefflin at centre forward for longer too but Tony Og Regan and company have been forewarned.
Mention of Canning brings us to his well publicised comments on Henry Shefflin and JJ.Delaney Sections of the media made hay on the back of Canning’s comments but in reality when the interview was heard in context and in its entirety the comments were not of the incendiary variety. Much ado about nothing really and come 3.30pm on Sunday all will be long forgotten.
What of the respective subs benches? Galway have used 25 players in the 2012 championship run, but could a player that we have not seen yet like a Niall Healy or an Aidan Harte make an impact? Could Jonathan Glynn, Joseph Cooney or the pacey Davy Glennon, who earned the late game-saving free, see more game time? Will Brian Cody put his faith in Cillian Buckley or Richie Doyle, despite their loss in the All Ireland U21 final, or perhaps the experienced John Tennyson could be handed a role. Suffice to say; some changes will occur, with for instance Richie Hogan unlikely to spend 70 minutes in Iarla Tannian’s company in midfield again any time soon.
Sunday will, incredibly, be the fifth meeting of the sides in 2012. It will also be the third time that James McGrath will be the man in the middle. The benefit of entering the Leinster Championship is that meetings with the greatest team to ever play the game have been more regular – those meetings have crystallised the belief that Galway know what level they need to reach to live with the Cats. To beat the best, you must play the best.
As for a winner? While bearing in mind that replays can follow vastly different trends to the original drawn game, it is difficult to disagree with Kilkenny wearing the favourites tag. They have consistently done it when it has mattered and the motivation to earn the ninth All Ireland medal for King Henry is powerful – if nothing else Kilkenny owe him for almost singlehandedly dragging them back into the drawn game.
Still though, there remains a real belief that it is there for Galway. The experience of having gone through the hype strewn build up ahead of the drawn encounter should stand to this youthful panel. Galway have bought into the game plan developed by Anthony Cunningham, Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny, while the game on September 9 did much to unhinge the view that there was something freakish about the Leinster Final result.
Put simply, Galway proved they can now dance with the Cats. However, the sentiments about a developing team and youthful promise for the future need to be parked for 70 minutes. It’s all about the now. It’s all about performing. No one knows when Galway will be in this position again. Tomorrow may never come. The result is everything on All-Ireland Final day. Go for it Galway.