Hurlers given a major wake-up call

A tough day: Galway manager Anthony Cunningham with selectors and players after losing their Leinster hurling championship crown to Dublin at Croke Park on Sunday. 				Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

A tough day: Galway manager Anthony Cunningham with selectors and players after losing their Leinster hurling championship crown to Dublin at Croke Park on Sunday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

The Galway senior hurlers now know they need a phenomenal improvement if they are to get anything out of the 2013 season.

Their 2-25 to 2-13 defeat to Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster final at Croke Park exposed major problems. With the exception of Shane Kavanagh and Johnny Coen at times, their defence looked in serious difficulty for most of the game.

Both midfielders were replaced by the start of the second half and, apart from Joe Canning up front, no forward was consistent. Admittedly the subs who came on, in particular Andy Smith, did improve things, but there is no ignoring that the team as a collective unit was well beaten.

Unless they can pick up the pieces fast, inject much more passion into their game, more high tempo work-rate, and less poor use of possession, they will not be getting many more championship games this season.

Dublin did have advantages - it was Anthony Daly's side’s fifth weekend in a row in Leinster championship action. In those five weeks they had met Wexford twice, then Kilkenny (reigning All-Ireland and National League champions ) twice in highly intense games, and won after another replay.

Comparing that preparation with Galway's one game against Laois, perhaps no one should be surprised how quickly Dublin were up to championship pitch compared to Galway.

It was a point made by team manager Anthony Cunningham after the game too.

"“Four matches versus one match: Everyone knows, regardless of whether it is minor, senior or junior, that the more matches you have, it builds your confidence and your skill levels. "

Interestingly, in the initial stages, Galway looked the fresher team as they edged into an 0-3 to 0-2 lead with points from Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and Iarla Tannian. However, it was a false dawn for the Galway supporters at Croke Park.

Dublin began to take over in most sections of the field. Their defence got to grips with the Galway attack - though Canning would remain a threat right to the end - and their midfield got on top as the scores began to flow.

Up front David O’Callaghan continued in All-Star form and hit three points. Paul Ryan was also flying and making hay in the sunshine. Ryan O’Dwyer hit two scores, while both midfielders, captain John McCaffrey (2 ) and Joey Boland (1 ), also chipped in.

Things were not going well at all for 2012 Leinster champions and, by half time, they were 1-12 to 0-7 in arrears and taking on water badly.

Galway needed to ring the changes, and did.

Andy Smith had already come in to midfield and made a massive difference. At half time Damien Hayes and Aidan Harte were added to the fray and, in the opening minutes of the new half, Joe Canning reduced the deficit to six with two more scores.

However, Paul Ryan, who was flying at full-forward, hit an unanswered 1-2, followed by a great score by wing-back Michael Carton.

At 2-15 to 0-9, Galway seemed finished. However, two fine goals by Joe Canning and David Burke put Galway back into contention. At 2-17 to 2-11, with 16 minutes to play, there was a feeling that if Galway grabbed another goal, they could rattle a team looking for their first title in 61 years.

That goal almost came when in the 65th minute Joe Canning again burst through, but Gary Maguire saved well. The Dublin rearguard cleared the sliotar, and Galway’s chance of a Houdini-like escape and retaining the Leinster title was gone with it.

Dublin hit six points on the trot then to win pulling up, with some superb displays all over the field from Conal Keaney, Niall Corcoran, Peter Kelly and Paul Schutte, Stephen Hiney and Liam Rushe.

For Galway, the defeat leaves a lot of questions.

The full-back is still a problem for the side. Is Kevin Hynes the man to anchor the defence from the number three shirt? Although a truly committed, honest and hard working hurler, he struggles with fast full-forwards and Paul Ryan hit 2-3 from play. If the team management is going to go with Hynes at full-back, they need to have a strategy where he receives more cover in front of him than last Sunday.

Also, will Iarla Tannian, David Collins, Fergal Moore, David Burke, who all collected All-Stars last season, be able to rediscover their 2012 focus and form?

Cyril Donnellan, who was highly effective last year, but was replaced by half time last weekend, needs to rediscover his best form. Indeed the entire half-forward line needs to be much more productive.

It is fine saying Dublin were at championship pitch and Galway were not. But what will have changed, or how will Galway have improved, by the next time they are up against a top side, or if they were to meet the Dubs again?

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