Conor Whelan the navigator supreme in Galway’s crusade

There wasn’t enough made of it in the post-match analysis, yet Conor Whelan’s brilliant hook on Michael Cahill in added-time could be what wins Galway the All-Ireland title this year, suggests Peter McNamara.

That is, of course, if they manage to repel Cork or Waterford on September 3.

Tipperary had the opportunities to win a match they were expected to in these quarters, last Sunday, but the likes of Whelan had other ideas.

Michael Ryan’s side, when they reflect on events at headquarters, will be livid with themselves, especially Seámus Callanan, not that he owes his county anything at this point in his career.

However, even though the Tribesmen created a great number of scoring chances, you did feel the Premier missed opportunities that would, on nine days out of 10, be converted.

Joe Canning’s masterstroke at the death lifted the souls of those in the west while Gearóid McInerney’s performance will be discussed by folk on barstools from Loughrea to Athenry.

However, if there is one man defining the Galway of 2017 it is Whelan.

And the moment in which he sprinted back to deny Cahill an unimpeded attempt at goal, summed up his worth to the team as well as the difference between Galway this season and in so many years past.

So far, that is because if the westerners fail to overcome the last hurdle we will all dole out the ‘same old Galway’ line.

Nevertheless, Whelan’s presence and form this summer has been nothing short of sensational.

Each day a different member of their team steps up to shine a light on their campaign, as McInerney did on this occasion.

Yet, Whelan is the one constantly exceptional performer. His four points were technically outrageous and his capacity to connect with those in his vicinity to devastating effect is going to leave either Kieran Kingston or Derek McGrath with a sleepless night or two.

His selflessness encapsulates this group. Admittedly, and this is primarily due to their history of screwing up, basically, there are still slight reservations as to whether they will get the job done this time.

Regardless, their consistency in reaching three of the six most recent finals now, indicates that psychologically, they are growing.

Physically, they are probably the strongest of the three remaining teams in the hunt for the Liam McCarthy Cup.

However, their greatest battle from now until the first Sunday in September will be between their ears.

Mentally, as a collective, Galway used to get in their own way far too often.

Micheál Donoghue’s men have won each of the three trophies available to them thus far this year. But those successes will be soon forgotten about if Galway are not prepared to ignore any psychological scars from recent seasons.

Players like Whelan, though, are convincing the doubters that their time truly has arrived.

His speed of thought is immense and it is difficult to pinpoint any corner-back in either of the Cork or Waterford camps that could shackle him in the form he is in at present.

Last year, with Austin Gleeson, and further back, in 2013 with Tony Kelly, both the Young Hurler of the Year and Hurler of the Year awards were handed to the same man.

If Whelan has another whirlwind display next month the same scenario could transpire this term.

Canning is currently the odds-on favourite for the Hurler of the Year prize.

And if he fires in the All-Ireland final the Portumna man is probably a shoo-in for the gong.

However, what Whelan is achieving is remarkable. There is no more lethal forward in the game right now.

Yet, that hook on Cahill reminded everybody that it is not all about the glory of raising white and green flags with the Kinvara attacker.

And what a boost it must have given to his team-mates in the final few frenetic plays to witness his exemplary attitude surface like that to guard against what would surely have been an equaliser in that sequence.

Canning’s subsequent piece of artistry will be marked down as the highlight of the year, irrespective of the outcome of the decider.

Still, Whelan’s intervention would have its place on the shortlist of any defining moments’ lists later on in the year.

Who will join Galway?

Who will join Galway in the All-Ireland final? The distraction of Tadhg de Búrca’s fight for availability cannot be helping the Déise. McGrath and Dan Shanahan will rage against that notion, however, it simply has to be having a negative impact on their preparations for Sunday’s clash with a Cork side that has already beaten them twice competitively this season.

Then again, if de Búrca’s suspension is not overturned who’s to say it will not be a blessing in disguise for Waterford.

The Déise possess the quality operators required to express themselves and play a conventional game to winning effect.

The suggestions are Darragh Fives will fill the role of de Búrca. However, this is actually an opportunity for McGrath to allow his team to go man-for-man and take the Rebels on at face value.

Granted, McGrath and Waterford have to do what they feel is right for them.

Is there any justification, though, in setting up with a sweeper system and losing another All-Ireland semi-final by a couple of scores, which is likely to be the case if they insist on being conservative in their approach?

You do not automatically hurl unintelligently if you hurl with a sense of freedom.

Does McGrath truly trust his henchmen to generate a match-winning total without a defensive screen, though? In fairness, he has the absolute right to deploy his side in whatever way he sees fit.

If Cork fire over a number of long-range scores at Croke Park, however, due to a little extra room further out the field, and go on to prevail, ultimately, McGrath’s penchant for using a sweeper will go down as a flawed operational tool of choice.

Provided the lay-off from the Munster final has not hindered Kingston’s charges, Cork should reach the showpiece.


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