There was enough good play by Galway with which to praise the team and enough slack marking and poor option-taking to keep the coaching staff busy for the next three weeks.
The Tribesmen got their match-ups correct in defence in the first period and restricted Kilkenny to five points from play, but they couldn’t sustain the effort in the second half.
Up front, Galway’s Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion were impressive. When Galway moved the ball short and ran at the Kilkenny rearguard from midfield and half-forward, they scored some good points. However, they lack what I term ‘goal awareness’. Three times in the first half Cathal Mannion struck points when a little more ambition and ingenuity might have yielded a goal. They may need to spend more time working on angles of running and support play up front. Without this string to their bow, Galway will continue to underachieve.
Kilkenny are a good side and they have the capability to hurt you when opportunities present.
This final turned on two Kilkenny scores 10 minutes into the second half, when Galway still led by three points. A goal by Jonjo Farrell and a point from play by TJ Reid within a minute of each other ultimately decided the game.
Was it great Kilkenny play or did Galway’s negligence contribute to it? Conor Fogarty ran through diagonally but had no catch left and was within tackling distance of two Galway defenders. Fogarty, for all his undoubted talents, is not a first-rate striker. Little things like this must be assessed quickly by a defence. Defending with depth, discipline, and delaying the play until support arrives are basic principles. If there is a breakdown in one of these principles, it can have severe consequences.
Johnny Coen, an experienced defender, was tracking his man Jonjo Farrell. However, he made a rash decision. He committed the mistake of leaving his man to tackle Fogarty far too early in the play, on the 20m line. Instead of staying with Farrell and cutting out Fogarty’s preferred option of an offload, he made it easy for Kilkenny’s attack. This provided space and time for Farrell. Goalkeeper Colm Callanan was initially caught in two minds and wasn’t set for the shot, as is required. The ball shot under his legs.
TJ Reid immediately hit a good point after a block-down by Michael Fennelly. Aidan Harte should have stepped inside Fennelly instead of electing to strike. What causes these mistakes? Is the Kilkenny factor pressurising players or is it poor training and preparation by their opponents? Micheál Donoghue must ask himself if there are deficiencies on the coaching ticket or just deficiencies in the players, as lessons are not being learned. Either or both are shown up in Croke Park. Some deficiencies are more easily rectified than others and time is against him but he must know that he has a good base from which to work.
In the second half, Kilkenny got a grip in the middle third. Conor Fogarty was excellent all through and Michael Fennelly improved, after an indifferent first half. The introductions of John Power and particularly Richie Hogan at half-time provided the spark that spurred them to victory.
Hogan wasn’t patrolled tightly enough and a player of his calibre will always do damage if given time and space. Brian Cody has a long memory and in the All-Ireland replay in 2012, Hogan did huge damage at the edge of the square. He did the same yesterday but Galway may have erred in detailing Padraig Mannion to mark him instead of usual full-back John Hanbury. Kilkenny move on just being themselves. Superb fitness levels, well-organised, good stickwork, good midfield and attack. Nothing sensational, but they are moving steadily forward without fuss toward a three-in-a-row.
Last Saturday night, in contrast to the Tipp game, the Rebels put their shoulder to the wheel and the sideline made smart moves with their substitutions, particularly the introductions of Conor O’Sullivan as sweeper and Daniel Kearney to midfield.
Cork got the draw they wanted in Round 2 of the qualifiers, even though Wexford were comprehensive winners over Offaly and should set Cork a difficult enough task.
While the win over Dublin was a nervy affair, it should provide much-needed confidence, though there is also the danger of a little overconfidence as the public will believe that Cork can win this one easily.
Nothing will be won easily by Cork. They were extremely wasteful (as they were against Tipp) with their shot selection against Dublin, striking eight bad wides when they were on top in the first half. This is an area that must be addressed. Moreover, star forward Alan Cadogan had to wait 18 minutes for his first ball.
Time is the big enemy when you are trying to change a culture. It must be remembered that players begin their formative years listening to the advice from adults on the sideline to ‘drive it’ once they gain possession.This becomes an automatic response and it takes good coaching and time to eliminate this from one’s game.
Players revert to type when under pressure if the training received isn’t sufficient. Intercounty forwards, more often than not, were also stars from six years old.
These guys are so good that games were won on their individual brilliance, whereas coordinated combination is required in attack at inter-county level.
Star youngsters are encouraged to ‘always take it on’ themselves with the emphasis on the individual rather than the team. This leads to a lack of awareness regarding the use of space in attack and a lack of ‘goal awareness’, a continuing problem for the Rebels. Handy points are regularly taken rather than running at a defence to engineer a goal.
Defensive discipline and angles of support are other areas that still need attention.
Another big game next Saturday night. It’s a case of so much to do and so little time.