Galway adding up to sum of their parts

I WAS talking to four fairly shrewd Corkmen in the press box before throw-in against Galway on Saturday evening and asked them who they thought would win.

All four went for Galway, and I was the only one who fancied Cork. Did they know something I didn’t? Had they seen or heard something I hadn’t?

After just a couple of minutes, though, I could see where they were coming from, when I saw how Cork had lined out their team. I consider Tom Kenny one of the finest midfielders of his generation, and John Gardiner as a fine wing-back, but before the throw in they had switched places.

It made no sense at the time, it made no sense as the game unfolded, and yet it continued into the second half and when the change back was made it came far too late.

I also felt that for Cork to win, their forwards would have to fire, and their half-forward line especially – they failed, and failed miserably and were almost totally unable to win a puckout in the first half.

I was very surprised then that the Cork management didn’t move swiftly to change things here. Pa Cronin was in trouble throughout, against an admittedly fine centre-back in John Lee while Timmy McCarthy was out of it also in the first half, though he did come into it for a spell before succumbing to his injury in the second half.

The Cork sideline should have acted quickly here. Why didn’t they bring Patrick Horgan out to centre-forward, where I think he could do damage, and at least he would have offered something different?

The only man I saw who was winning ball for Cork in the air was Kieran Murphy, when he made a few runs out from corner-forward. Ben O’Connor again played well for Cork, but we all know that winning puck-outs isn’t one of his strengths, and anyway I’m not sure he was at full fitness.

As for the men inside, when you have a full-forward who is going on seven feet tall, why do you not belt high ball into him? I’ve heard Cork people saying that Aisake can’t hurl, that he hasn’t got his touch back yet, but over the last 40 years and more I’ve seen plenty of outstanding full-forwards who couldn’t hurl, but who could score.

This guy is big, strong and awkward, he’s not afraid to put himself in where it hurts – why didn’t Cork just throw in the high ball to him, and let the two corners work off the breaks.

Even as something different, why didn’t they try him on the 40 for a while in the first half, when they were struggling so badly under their own puck-outs? If a guy can play at full-forward, he should also be able to play at centre.

The area that was most alarming for Cork, however, had nothing to do with management decisions, it was the number of stupid frees conceded, and it makes me wonder – has the edge gone from this team?

When they were at their peak Cork didn’t give away those kind of frees, they conceded only when they had to. It was stupid, brainless especially when you’re facing one of the finest free-takers in the game. Cork conceded six frees in the first half, which isn’t a huge number, but they were silly frees, and they were punished, with Joe Canning pointing all six, three from inside his own half.

Finally, on Cork, I did say one man would have a major influence on this game, and that was Donal Óg Cusack – on this, at least, I was right, because he was outstanding. Only for him, and the efforts of Shane O’Neill outside him, Cork would have been beaten earlier. Time for Cork to do some radical surgery on this side, up front especially.

What of Galway? The outstanding feature of Galway now is the way the management have them playing as a team, everyone working really hard for each other even when things aren’t going great for them as individuals. That’s a great sign, one of the qualities that separates the best from the rest, and it speaks volumes for the work that the three Johns – McIntyre, Hardiman, Moylan – and Joe Connolly are doing.

Then you look at some of the team selection decisions; I thought Andy Smith might have been moved back to wing-back to pick up Ben O’Connor, Eoin Lynch going to midfield, and Ger Farragher to wing-forward, but they had trust in the players as chosen in their positions, and they were right.

Farragher especially, did very well in midfield, worked very hard, not normally a quality I’d have associated with him. Galway are trying to match Kilkenny, I think, in their work-rate. We always knew the talent was there, but the work-rate, playing for the team and not for themselves, that’s new, and that’s something that this management team has brought in.

I noticed also that on Saturday evening, when Cork got a bit of a run going early in the second half with three points on the board without reply, Galway had a man going down in front of their own goals, ‘injured’, interrupting the play. Clever – those are the little things that can win matches, and it did end the Cork spree, such as it was.

Then you look at the lads Galway brought on and the timing of the substitutions; Kevin Hayes and Joe Gantley came on with 20 and ten minutes to go, respectively, and they really made an impact; Eoin Forde and Andy Coen came on in the dying minutes, just to interrupt things again and slow things down. All those little things add up.

Another huge strength with Galway is the influence of the Portumna players. Ollie Canning is the leader of that Portumna team and is also the leader of Galway; with Fergal Moore and Shane Kavanagh, Ollie forms a really solid full-back line, a really intelligent line, in front of Colm Callanan, another guy I’m impressed with.

Galway are going well, but they have to keep going well, and they have to keep improving. This wasn’t a great game, but they’re facing another big challenge now in Waterford next weekend. Hopefully they’ll get a bigger crowd following them, because they deserve that.

On Limerick/Laois, this was a really poor game. I said on Saturday that if Limerick didn’t win this the players could have headed for Rosslare – they were as far as Wexford, I’d say, but managed to turn it around.

Still, if Laois had, had any experience or more belief, they could have taken it. Brian Stapleton, Michael McEvoy, and the full-forward line of Costello, Fitzgerald and Brophy, were all impressive. However, in Mark Foley, Brian Geary, Stephen Lucey, Damien Reale, and James Ryan especially, Limerick had leaders, but their hurling has gone way back from the style they were playing under Richie Bennis.

A lot of relief in Limerick today, but they’re going to have to raise their game considerably for the rising challenge of Dublin.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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