All the pressure on Galway after skinning Cats
By Donal O’Grady
Galway went into their last game with no expectation.
Their fans now expect a similar performance to the Leinster final and that expectation, coupled with the mantle of being hot favourites, is a burden of pressure they didn’t have to carry the last day.
It is very difficult to serve up two near perfect displays in succession and even tougher to make sure a team is not overconfident.
Cork, on the other hand, are rank outsiders and can approach this game in a relaxed but determined mood. Those are the underlying factors which will influence tomorrow’s game. How they influence it is to be seen.
What we do know is Galway will carry a game plan into the semi-final based on building a superiority at half back and midfield. By using accurate inter-passing or direct advantageous ball to David Burke, Cyril Donnelan and Joe Canning up front, as they did against Kilkenny, they will seek every opportunity to run at Rebel defenders drawing fouls or taking match winning scores.
If I was Galway manager Anthony Cunningham I would play Joe Canning in the full-forward line this time, keep him there as he carries a huge offensive threat and will finish any goal opportunities that may arise.
Cork will have to serve up a near-perfect performance to win and to do this they need to carry out a comprehensive game plan, attacking the Galway full-back line and disrupting their forward supply lines at half back/midfield.
Quality ball will have to be delivered accurately to Cork’s full forwards to test Galway’s corner back Johnny Coen and full back Kevin Hynes as they are not the most experienced in their positions. But it’s how to get the ball in is the issue. A lot is made of fast ball to the forward line but it must be accurate, giving an advantage to the attacker otherwise it’s a lottery. On 50-50 ball good defenders usually come out on top.
In the first half of the Galway game, Kilkenny struck in a lot of fast ball from midfield, but it was of the ‘head down’ variety which was ill-directed and easily swept up by the aforementioned Coen.
The key to supplying Cork’s inside line lies in the type of play used by Galway themselves in the opening minutes of the Leinster final. Working the ball forward by measured deliveries forcing defenders to man mark and stretching the half-back line and pulling the full-back line out.
Space is then created inside the 20m line where forwards can move, getting onto accurate through balls or over the top passes and running directly at goal. When defenders are isolated and being turned and threatened by their opponents doubts can set in, they back off a little and even 50-50 long balls can be profitable for an attack.
Limiting the influence of Joe Canning and Damien Hayes is crucial to Cork’s success. Hayes is a major contributor to their game plan of three in midfield. He will operate chiefly around the middle, creating a defensive buffer in front of the centre-back, making himself available for passes from defence and then running strongly with devastating effect linking with forwards or racing through himself, a role he performed to perfection in the Leinster final.
Cork will have to man mark Hayes and stop him at source from picking up breaks. Normally a forward assumes this role as using a defender automatically creates space for the opposing attack. Cork need to keep to their positions in a tight defensive unit and not allow themselves to be drawn out in general play or for puck outs. It happened in the league final against Kilkenny. Galway will benefit in spades if it happens again.
Galway will put severe pressure on Cork’s defence when they’re in possession, forcing turnovers and poor deliveries which will make things easier for their own defence and allow them the luxury of picking out the next best placed colleague with a hand pass or accurate delivery. A huge work rate and discipline from half forwards is required to carry out this tactic and Galway’s Cyril Donnellan and Niall Burke have the physical attributes and hurling skills to carry it out.
Cork need to do the same but their half forwards, Conor Lehane and Jamie Coughlan, lack the physicality of their Galway counterparts and using the clever Jamie Coughlan at centre-forward might prove profitable for Cork.
Discipline is also hugely important for Cork. Patrick Cronin, Cork’s most influential player this season, makes many positive contributions but he makes poor discipline decisions at times and with a player of the dead ball ability of Joe Canning in the opposition Cork can’t afford to give away needless frees as they did against Waterford.
Canning, of course, must be tightly watched all through and denying Galway early goals or building an early lead is vital for Cork’s chances. Of course if Galway play near as they did against Kilkenny they will move into the final with ease. Home