DONAL O'GRADY: Fired-up Galway shut down Clare and classy Joe Canning moved in for kill

I wrote last Saturday that players are strongly motivated by comments which call their personal courage into question.

On Sunday, Galway provided the expected response from the throw-in.

They were fired up and manager Micheál Donoghue’s planning worked a treat. Pádraig Mannion man-marked Clare’s Tony Kelly effectively.

Regular corner-back Johnny Coen marked the impressive David Reidy in midfield, while Aidan Harte performed very well as the free defender.

Daithí Burke, John Hanbury, and Adrian Tuohy performed their defensive duties impressively, ensuring that Clare got little sight of goal.

Behind them, Colm Callanan made a few smart saves adding to their confidence.

Clare were very effective against opponents when Cian Dillon was the receiver for short puck-outs, but, near the end of their previous qualifier, the Limerick forwards eventually pushed up on Dillon, forcing the Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahy to go long.

Most of those puck-outs were won by the Limerick half-back line and they dominated possession in the closing stages. Galway employed this tactic from the start and drove forward, wind-assisted.

In the first half, they completely shut down Clare’s short puck-out strategy and forced the aforementioned Fahy to drive long against the strong breeze.

It was obvious that the Tribesmen had targeted Dillon in their pre-match plans.

Back in 1998, Cork beat Clare well in a league semi-final. They met again later in the championship.

It was clear from the start that day that Clare had targeted Brian Corcoran, Cork’s highly influential centre-half back.

Anytime Corcoran got near the ball, he was hounded by three or four Clare players. Galway’s targeting of Cian Dillon reminded me of this.

On his first possession, Dillon was blocked near the sideline. The ball was stripped and crossed for Galway’s opening score.

It laid down a marker. Galway completely nullified his influence from puck-outs and from general play.

Clare have employed a tactic this year of pushing half-backs up on their direct opponents, who drop back on Clare puck-outs.

It worked well against Kilkenny in the league, when centre-back Conor Cleary played this role.

However, there is a downside if the puck-out is lost. Half-backs are drawn into midfield and it leaves a lot of space in front of the full-back line. Forwards thrive on space and a clever ball forward can unlock a defence.

It is educational to stand near the goalkeeper to get his view of player positioning out the field. We are spoiled to a degree by television coverage.

We get a view from a camera situated high up on the stand or high up behind a goal. Wide shots of the pitch from these cameras show the positioning of colleagues and opponents at puck-out time.

However, the goalkeeper’s view is at pitch level and can be restricted by players directly in front of him making it difficult for him to pick out his targets.

It is fine if a player is loose in the full-back line, but it is difficult to pick out receivers in midfield. The players facing a long puck-out have an advantage, particularly when the wind is into the ’keeper’s face.

Galway’s first goal was a case in point. Brendan Bugler was Joe Canning’s man-marker. He followed Canning, who is good in the air, back beyond midfield.

Conor Cleary would have been the preferred target on the other side of the field and manager Davy Fitzgerald was constantly urging Cleary to get forward for puck-outs. On 15 minutes, Fahy made it a straight contest between Bugler and his man.

Canning fielded the ball and drove forward sending a good ball into Conor Cooney, who turned his man and finished well. The ball hit the ground just outside the ’keeper’s left foot, a very difficult shot for a goalkeeper.

The second goal was the key play in the game, in spite of Clare’s quick three-point response. Clare went with man-markers and it was clear at the second half throw-in that some defenders were not marking their men.

The conventional wisdom in that situation is that you stay as you are until there is a stoppage in play, or the play is up the other end of the pitch.

However, Clare defenders were moving onto other opponents when the ball was thrown in. The defence wasn’t settled and Galway took advantage.

When a team is seven points down at half-time, the talk in the dressing room will be about getting the first score, if possible, but making sure not to concede frees or scores in the first 10 minutes.

Galway’s Johnny Coen broke away with the ball. David Burke, who played a captain’s part, ran a strong supporting line to his right and passed across to Joe Canning at the opportune time. He dispatched a bullet to the net.

If that scenario happened before half-time or near the end of the game, with Clare two points up, Coen may have been fouled going through. In that case, Clare would be happy to concede a point.

However, just after half-time and down by seven, a defender would not want to concede a free in front of goal and would take his chances.

Joe Canning didn’t move a whole lot before receiving the pass for that goal, but his movement was crucial and sheer class.

If he had stayed where he was, initially, he would not have had the space to run onto the pass and might have had to take the ball with his back to goal in a static position.

He took four or five small steps away from goal, as David Burke came through. This movement, ultimately, made the goal. When Canning turned to support Burke, his earlier movement had done two things.

It provided a great angle for Burke’s pass, giving Clare defender Pat O’Connor no chance of an interception and, crucially, it provided the space in front of him to run onto the ball.

He was conscious of avoiding the narrowing of his shooting angle, so Canning did not catch the ball, but controlled it on his stick and hit it immediately. It is one for the next GAA coaching DVD.

Galway answered any questions asked of them last Sunday, but they will face a stiffer challenge against Tipperary. Waterford face the stiffest challenge and have only five or six sessions to prepare for Kilkenny.

They went 17 minutes without scoring in the second half against Wexford. Against the breeze, their half-forwards dropped back to their half-back line or deep in midfield as defensive cover.

However, the gap then to their inside forward colleagues was too great. This led to longer forward deliveries by Waterford, which were easily intercepted by the Wexford rearguard.

In such situations, Déise inside forwards need to come out to the halfway line to receive shorter ball and link with runners from midfield, but they are inclined to stay inside. This is one area that will have to be worked on before the next game.

Wexford scored five points in a row building, from the back on this turnover ball. What would the Cats achieve in similar circumstances? Waterford could find out to their cost unless some alterations are put in place.

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