Galway’s inverted T can crack open Waterford faultline

There was no discussion in print of a Galway innovation against Wexford in 2017’s Leinster Final, writes PM O’Sullivan.
Galway’s inverted T can crack open Waterford faultline

Truth told, this column is to previews what whisky writing is to work.

There is far more savour than grunt involved. This final should be held in the mind. How could it be otherwise when you would like to see both counties win?

Both counties cannot win, although a draw looks a decent bet. Often enough, the maxim about ‘all on the day’ is an empty observation. Next Sunday, it might acquire atypical weight. A bolt from the blue is the best way of negotiating a grey area.

There are plenty of grey areas as regards tactics. Galway pushing up seven on seven on their own puckout counts as one. Another asterisk is the extent to which Galway man-mark Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony, a tactic that might allow Waterford to create space up front by pre-planned running from Gleeson and Mahony.

Again, there was no discussion in print of a Galway innovation against Wexford in 2017’s Leinster Final. The three Galway full forwards stood in the middle, with the three half forwards outside in orthodox fashion.

Put in soccer terms, they took up a 3-1-1-1 formation. Put another way, the Galway attack became an inverted T.

The arrangement leaves space on both wings, facilitating alike diagonal balls and balls down the line. This facet acquires further significance if you allow the opposition short puckouts, since there is ready made space into which a corner back and a wing back, sent a short puckout, can put the ball.

Still more, there are a lot of bodies automatically around any sweeper as he tries to deal with high deliveries down the centre. Waterford have yet to meet an offensive structure in this pattern. Micheál Donoghue and colleagues naturally viewed that contest with Wexford as their dry run for a possible future contest with Waterford.

Tipperary made hay against Waterford down this central corridor in 2016’s Munster Final. That outing ended up Tadhg de Búrca’s least accomplished stint as a sweeper.

That afternoon, Tipperary’s facility with dropping high ball between the opposition half back line and full back line made de Búrca a defender rather than a receiver of defensive possession. This pressure pushed Waterford out of their preferred grooves as regards transition from defence to attack.

Result? Five Tipp goals.

Although Waterford, 14 months on, are a better team, this consideration persists under their hurling like a faultline. Their preferred game is working ball out short to midfield, where the virtues of application, pace and touch go about dismantling the opposition’s 70-minute ability to fill gaps opened by Waterford hurling in pods of three and four throughout the middle third.

Galway will have rehearsed ways of negating line-breaking gambits in this sector. Their success or lack of success, as reflected in Sunday’s outcome, will assume broader implications. Davy Fitzgerald et al believe people who query sweeper-focused hurling do so out of ignorance. For him, sweeper refuseniks are merely failed Mensa candidates railing against IQ tests.

Not so, all told. Refuseniks quite well understand that sweeper-focused hurling draws upon developments in Gaelic football. These developments centre on hustling possession around the field in pods of three. If a pod draws many bodies over to one side of the field, swift transfer of the ball to the other side (easier to do with a sliotar) opens up dangerous swathes of space for an attack.

The problem is such hurling’s attendant tempo. Since full forwards do not take up a high line, the ball cannot be released forward on the beat, ratcheting the tempo and invigilating backs’ ability to deal with quick deliveries.

If you have a skilful team, and Waterford are a really skilful team, you should move at the highest possible tempo. Speedy deliveries force backs to commit their body weight, which is the Yellow Brick Road for goals (and maybe even The Brick road for goals).

Midfield battle (Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran against David Burke and Johnny Coen) is surely this contest’s crucible. Barron and Moran are right in the running for Hurler of the Year. Both men’s form is way ahead of where it was for last June’s Munster semi-final with Cork.

Last day out, Burke and Coen were diligent against Tipperary but not at their optimum. The Galway pairing requires individual and collective improvement. While they are good enough to find this measure, they must find it.

Does Sunday’s ‘Man of the Match’ award fall to one of this quartet? If this gong goes to Barron or Moran, the Liam McCarthy Cup goes to Waterford. If the gong stays put, Galway will have moved a nice way towards Hogan Stand steps.

Breaking even would do Galway in midfield, because they possess more flexibility as regards deliveries to their attack. Waterford require dominance from Barron and Moran, because their deliveries to attack are productive within a narrower spectrum (at least until Maurice Shanahan arrives).

A winning scoreline for Galway reads something like 1-24 to 1-20. A winning scoreline for Waterford reads something like 2-20 to 0-24. The reliability of Kinvara’s Colm Callanan is one reason Waterford might not get goals. Then again, the volatility of Mount Sion’s Austin Gleeson is a sovereign reason why they might.

All in all, Galway deserve their favourites’ tag and there may be drams galore by the Corrib next week. For anyone who fancies something special, I recommend the Method and Madness single pot still, which is becoming hard to find.

I was in O’Connell’s of Eyre Square last week and they had a little bit left. Same story with Tully’s on O’Connell Street in Waterford.

Come to think of it, this All-Ireland Final acts as an audit on hurling as intent method (Waterford) and hurling as controlled madness (Galway). Whatever about whiskies, the best expression of the most beautiful game might well be a blend. Galway seem to own an edge there.

Savour the weekend, whatever the result. It will be a pure drop.

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