Uncle Mo and Ian — a little bit of literary licence is required with Ian, who I’ll get to later — are two impostors that will have a bearing on the semi-final tomorrow, writes Donal O’Grady.
I’ve written about Uncle Mo before under the guise of Mr Momentum, a name I borrowed from Coach Reinebold of Sky’s NFL Sunday night programme.
Uncle Mo’s a fickle character who’s allied himself firmly with the Blue and Gold at this stage through facile victories over Dublin, Offaly and a more competitive Clare, while five weeks of inactivity is not ideal preparation for Galway.
Operating through the ‘back door’, the Premier were afforded the opportunity to rebuild confidence and gather momentum.
Those facile wins over Westmeath and Dublin got them back on track and led to a good win against the Banner, which was a much stiffer test than anything faced by the Tribesmen in Leinster.
Galway now have to reboot after their period of inaction and to develop their momentum again from a standing start.
“Ian”, mentioned above, also comes into play: ‘Ian Tangible’ is an abstract and complex chap, but he plays an important role, and form, or its loss, is the main intangible.
It’s difficult to define form in hurling terms.
However, players know when they are ‘in form’.
Confidence in one’s ability, accompanied by mental and physical sharpness, probably define this abstract term best.
A player’s movement, enthusiasm, decision-making and particularly his ‘first touch’ illustrate the form of any player. In the Clare game, Tipp’s forwards showed they were in form; they were razor-sharp and pounced on any sloppy Clare play.
Galway’s form at this juncture is unknown and they are also disadvantaged when it comes to dealing with the mental pressure of a big game.
Training at championship pace helps to hone sharpness but only playing ‘one-off’ knockout championship matches replicates the enormous mental pressure that accompanies these occasions.
Tipp have experienced this type of pressure against Cork and Clare, whereas Galway have yet to play under these conditions, as they weren’t subject to any stern examination, so far.
On the other hand, Tipp were asked some awkward questions, some of which they failed to answer. They’ll have learned from these, which gives Tipp an advantage.
Galway haven’t played for five weeks and Tipp have had an ideal ‘lead-in’ time. In that situation, you expect the Premier to start with all guns blazing. Their objective will be to take the lead, put the Tribesmen on the back foot, dent their confidence and force them to chase the game. The men in maroon must be prepared for this. The first 20 to 30 minutes is vital to the Westerners’ challenge. Teams that haven’t played for a while can be a little rusty and a little off the pace.
It’ll be important for them not to go toe-to-toe with the Premier in this period, as this would suit their sharper opponents.
Forcing Tipp to go long with their puck-outs, congesting the middle third, slowing down the play, preventing an open shoot-out type of game, blocking the channels into Tipp’s dangerous full-forward line, scrapping for every ball as best they can, while resisting the concession of avoidable frees must be the aim for Galway.
They have speedy attackers and their plan should be to break out of the congested middle third when an opportunity arrives and to run at the Tipp defence, as Waterford’s Jamie Barron did against Kilkenny. Once the Tribesmen are up to the pace of the game, they can then implement their attacking plans.
Joseph Cooney is tall and physically imposing on the left flank of attack; he should be the target for Galway ’keeper Colm Callanan’s puck-outs. Midfielder David Burke should be near at hand to pick up any breaks or to support with off-the-shoulder runs if clean possession is won by Cooney. The ultimate aim for all Galway attacks is to get at the suspect Tipperary defence (even with James Barry restored to full-back, along with the recalls for Mickey Cahill and Darren Gleeson in goal). Angled deliveries from the wings can make a difference, as Galway hunt for scores.
Tipp will drop their half forwards deep into midfield to disrupt Callanan’s restarts. Wing-backs Padraic Mannion and Aidan Harte will then become targets for Callanan and will be central to retaining possession.
They will be closed down quickly, but their role will be crucial. Their options will be to offload to supporting corner-backs, link up with midfielders or send in long-range angled deliveries to specific targets, which are challenging for defenders to handle.
However, the last thing Galway manager, Mícheál Donoghue needs is for Mannion or Harte to drive long, aimless deliveries forward to hand possession back to the Tipp inside defence. Possession feeds confidence and Donoghue will want to exploit any nervousness in the Tipp full-back line by delivering accurate deliveries inside.
In general play, Burke and fellow midfielder Johnny Coen have a crucial role. They are excellent runners from midfield, both regularly joining the attack. Coen mistimes his support runs at times by going a fraction too early and, in sport, as in general life, timing is everything.
Running from deep and playing one-twos will enable them to bypass Tipp’s Brendan Maher, who will play as a covering midfielder just in front of centre-back Ronan Maher. By running down the middle, once they break past the half-back line, they have easy opportunities to feed the full-forward line in search of goals.
Alternatively, they can offload to Joe Canning on a parallel support line, or hanging just behind the play, to create point-scoring opportunities.
In the Allianz League final, Galway’s half-forward line drifted out and Tipp wing-backs Padraic Maher and Seamus Kennedy followed their men. This is what Galway wanted. The tactic created vast areas of space in front of Tipp’s full-back line and Conor Whelan and Jason Forde made hay.
Centre-back Ronan Maher held his position, but he had no cover in front, as he had in 2016 from Brendan Maher. His opponent Joe Canning was free to roam and orchestrated many effective attacks.
Galway have an abundance of pace, and pace craves open spaces. This time around, Tipp will need to keep their half-backs in situ in their zones, no more than 50 metres from their goal. This will require their half-forwards to help out in midfield. Dan McCormack and Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher, absent along with Seamus Callanan for the league final, are built for the role of harrying opponents and turning over possession. Noel McGrath can also be effective in this role, as well as being one of their chief score-takers.
Obviously, Tipp boss Michael Ryan will want as many good deliveries as possible sent into his ultra- effective inside line. His half-backs, half-forwards, plus midfielder Michael Breen, have an important role in this regard. Galway’s half-back line have looked uncomfortable when opponents run at them, while both Mahers are capable of long-range scores if given space and they need to advance through midfield at every opportunity.
McCormack and McGrath need to run across the Galway half-back line, bringing their markers with them and offloading ‘over the top’ to the onrushing Breen, who can take it on himself or link up with their main gunslingers: Callanan, John O’Dwyer and John McGrath.
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