Galway saying to themselves: Why not us this year? And it could be

My day got off to a bad start. The Limerick minors were beaten by Galway. It was disappointing but we could have no real complaints.

Galway saying to themselves: Why not us this year? And it could be

Overall, we played five games, three in Thurles. When I was a Clare minor back in 1987, we played one game, a two-point defeat to Cork in Kilmallock. That was my minor days done and dusted.

Back then, Cork were always the underage benchmark. They’d been in an All-Ireland minor final in 1986. They went on to win the All-Ireland U21 title in 1988 after scraping by us in Kilmallock again. They showed up in another All-Ireland minor final in 1990. They won the senior title the same year. It was no surprise they were the kings of hurling but the underage success has dried up and there is a direct correlation to that reality and what we saw in Thurles yesterday.

Cork just don’t have the same quality they once routinely produced. At a stretch, five of this team might have made the Cork team of the last decade – and that’s being generous. We won’t go into any more comparisons with other sides because it could get ugly.

They were just blown away yesterday by Galway. They had no answer all day to their power or physicality, especially Johnny Glynn who was a monster all afternoon.

Cork were all over the shop at times. Playing the sweeper is fine as long as the other six defenders mark their men tightly and match them for work-rate but that didn’t happen. Cathal Mannion got the freedom of the park and was allowed do whatever he wanted. The fact that Mannion got 0-7 from play and still wasn’t man-of-the-match just highlights the dominance Galway enjoyed.

Galway had all the big performers; Daithí Burke, David Burke, John Hanbury really impressed after some tough days, Paraic Mannion was excellent in the sweeper role. If Joe Canning’s radar was working, and Galway weren’t as profligate with their shooting, this could have been more horrendous than it finished for Cork.

At times Cork didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. After playing so well at midfield against Clare, Cork played Bill Cooper at half-forward, where I feel he is too tied down.

Meanwhile, Damian Cahalane found himself out at midfield for long stages, a position he’s not comfortable with. He is an honest player. He’s definitely not dirty but he’s the type of guy you have to watch when he’s on a yellow card because he is so whole-hearted. I learned that to my cost as a manager. Cork were on the back foot all day but once Cahalane was sent off, the game was over.

There is just something different about Galway this year. They won’t be in Ballybrit this week because they look like a crowd that are sick of following horses when they should be hurling. They were tough and physical and in Cork’s faces all day.

You have to give great credit to Anthony Cunningham. He got his team selection right. Young Conor Whelan had a fine game. That was a brave call but Cunningham showed intent immediately after the Leinster final when he told Brian Cody that he’d see him again in the All-Ireland final.

It was a similar message Ger Loughnane sent out to us in Clare after we were beaten in the 1995 league final by Kilkenny. Subliminally, it got through to us. It seems to have got through to these Galway players too because they look like a bunch who are backing it up this year. They seem to be saying to themselves, why not us this year? If they keep producing what they did yesterday, it could be their year.

At half-time in the first game, after all the talk about sweepers, it looked like Dublin had cracked the code. They had pushed Ryan O’Dwyer up on Tadgh de Burca. O’Dwyer got two points and was playing well. Dublin had also tagged Shane Barrett to Kevin Moran. At one stage, Barrett ended up wing-forward but he had the pace to keep with Moran and Moran wasn’t having the same impact Waterford would have wanted him to have. The primary reason that tactic was working for Dublin though, was through the performances of Paul Schutte and Cian O’Callaghan. Those two defenders in the full-back line were excellent on Waterford’s two inside forwards. They both have pace but they were playing from the front and Schutte gave a masterclass.

Similar to Cork in the Munster semi-final though, there is always a risk with a two-on-two in space without a sweeper. There was always space there and once Waterford finally got through for the first goal, the whole complexion of the match changed. The game then was on Waterford’s terms and they just locked it up at the back.

To be fair to Waterford, they were more expansive. Austin Gleeson had more of a licence to push forward. Colin Dunford played closer to goal. They got more scores on the board but as soon as they needed to hit the default setting, they went back to their tried and trusted system because it is so effective.

It’s clear too that some of their main men are growing with each game. I met a few Waterford fellas beforehand who said that Barry Coughlan has solved a problem at full-back that lasted 20 years. The system is designed to offer him more protection but Coughlan is tough and manly and he showed those qualities against Conal Keaney.

With the Dubs, I often spoke about the pain and the shame. There was pain again yesterday but there was no shame. A lot of guys played really well; ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan, Mark Schutte, young Barrett, Chris Crummy, Liam Rushe for long periods.

Rushey could have no complaints with his straight red near the end but that’s not Liam’s form and he was clearly provoked by Maurice Shanahan. I felt that Maurice should have been given a second yellow.

It was a disappointing end to the day for the Dubs but, apart from the Galway replay, it’s been a good year. Next season, Ger Cunningham will also be able to put more of his own stamp on the team.

For Waterford, the journey continues. There won’t be any expectation on them against Kilkenny but the pressure is off and they will have desperate freedom to roll out their system again.

They’re still the story of the year, even if Galway are muscling their way into that script.

At times Cork didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. They were on the back foot all day

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