On the way home from Dublin last week, Niall Gilligan stopped off to break the journey in Francis Loughnane’s old pub in Roscrea, which is now run by John Carroll.
We were rekindling old stories from past battles between Clare and Tipp. Old soldiers stoking old embers in our collective souls trying to generate the heat again.
Niall and myself ran into John a couple of times against Tipp at the end of the 1990s. When Tipp finally took us down in 2000, he got an All-Star that season. John was the main man the night Tipp beat Clare in the 1999 Munster U21 final in Ennis when all hell broke loose afterwards.
He was more inclined to talk about the year he spent with Gilly in Tralee IT in ‘99 when they had a star-studded and stacked Fitzgibbon team which lost to UCC. Carroll had a great game. According to John, Gilly didn’t. Tipp lads still trying to get one over on us Clare fellas!
The banter was great and the local punters were mad for hurling talk. The word was that Noel McGrath might start in the half-forward line tomorrow with Brendan Maher returning to the half-back line to mark Johnny Glynn. It might have only been Monday morning speculation but if Noel is capable of doing himself justice, it would be some feat, and something all hurling people would rejoice in.
Can you imagine him coming off the bench? Croke Park would go bananas.
I don’t know what Tipp will do but Brendan has a good hand and he would have the athleticism for Johnny. I did three sessions with Ardrahan last year and I got to see Johnny up close. It’s only when you see him beside everyone else in a circle that you realise how much of a man-mountain he is. As David Collins said during the week, it’s like trying to take down a crane. It’s even harder to throw a chain around Johnny because he is so flexible and adaptable. Most counties would have him at 11 or 14 but Galway’s options are so wide that they can afford to leave him on the wing, with Cyril Donnellan at centre-forward and Joe Canning on the edge of the square.
Even bringing in young Conor Whelan the last day shows the depth they have up front. It was nearly a Codyesque move. Nobody had heard of him but Anthony Cunningham and his management trusted his training-ground form and he delivered. They have shown faith all year too in John Hanbury and Pádraig Mannion and their growth is testament to the job management have done this season.
It’s only tomorrow that we’ll really find out how good some of these Galway fellas are. Seamus Callanan will hardly be as subdued as he was in the Munster final. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher has had a quiet season but I expect him to ignite once he hits Croke Park. Bonner brings that steel and drive to Tipp and if they can click around the middle, they will have a great platform to build from.
There also seems to be a huge buy-in with Tipp for Eamon O’Shea’s last year in charge. I know the players are very fond of him but the danger with that situation is that you can strangle yourself with emotion if you’re not careful with how you control it. On these big days, you need to suspend that kind of emotion. As Munster used to say in their heyday , ‘Fire in the belly, ice in the veins’.
I saw that with Galway myself in 2011 when they played Dublin in a Leinster semi-final in Tullamore. A host of past Galway players came rolling out in an interview the day of the game and had a go at the manhood of the Galway players.
Clearly stung by the comments and the hurt caused, Galway came out fired up but they forgot to hurl. John McIntyre, then manager, came into the dressing-room afterwards and one of the first thing he said to the Dubs was, ‘We realise now that these big games are not won on emotion’.
The danger is heightened for Tipperary with Galway being in such a good place. It’s been a long time Galway have gone into such a big match with five big games already under their belts. Tipp will really need to produce their very best to get over the line in this one.
I was really impressed with Galway against Cork.
If they had nailed half of their 23 wides, it would have been a total massacre. Joe Canning hit eight wides, which is never going to happen again, but I was impressed too with how Galway managed so well without Joe lighting up the scoreboard.
It says something when Cathal Mannion got seven points from play and still didn’t get man-of-the-match.
We’re still waiting for an explosive game to really kick-start the championship and this has the potential with all the firepower on both sides.
Galway like to use the space with runners. I don’t think there will be out-and-out sweepers but it will be tactical. Galway rotate very heavily up front because most of their players are comfortable in most positions.
When Joe comes out to hit a free, he stays outside for a while. Donnellan or Glynn will sit inside in his place. Jason Flynn could turn up anywhere and they seem very comfortable with their system.
Galway have shown great unity this year but I’ve gone with Tipperary all year and I’m not going to change now.
I don’t see anything more than a score between the teams but I fancy Callinan, Bubbles and Tipp to shade it.
We’re still waiting for an explosive game to really kick-start the championship
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