Most games are decided in favour of the side which makes the best on-field decisions, both on and off the ball.
When in possession, taking the correct option is a first requirement. Then, executing the killer pass, the supporting offload or the short/long delivery to a high standard (and to the advantage of your team) is next on the list.
In the biggest of games, the tension surrounding the occasion adds to the pressure on individuals.
On All-Ireland Sunday, a minor error can be magnified to a huge degree in one’s mind, thereby adding to the tension and inhibiting the composure necessary to relax and play one’s natural game. Hurling is a team game, but often times the result comes down to individual battles.
AARON GILLANE V JOHN HANBURY
If one was to look for one big difference between the Limerick of last season and the current year, you could point to the introduction of Aaron Gillane as that major alteration.
Gillane was superb in last season’s U21 competition and he has carried that form into the current senior campaign. In his previous two games he has scored three points from play against Kilkenny and six against Cork.
If you looked at the stats, without viewing the games, you might think that Gillane was a pointscoring opportunist or a good support player who made himself available for passes when two defenders were sucked in to combat another Treaty colleague. He is both of the above; an excellent opportunist and a good support player.
However, his main attacking attribute is his prowess under the high ball. His ability to gain possession by leaping above his marker close to goal is a huge threat to Galway. He has created four clear goalscoring chances by fielding the high ball in the last two games. In each case he was ‘one-on-one’ with the ‘keeper and only inexperience prevented him converting on each occasion.
One can be sure that he has practised improving his finishing in the run up to Sunday. John Hanbury will most likely be tasked with limiting the influence of Gillane. If Hanbury can limit the Limerick corner-forward’s scoring opportunities it will be a huge psychological boost for the Galway defence.
Preventing Gillane from catching high deliveries will be Hanbury’s highest priority. Limerick engineer scenarios whereby Gillane is isolated to the left or right of the goal, with just one defender. An accurate diagonal delivery from the wing gives the forward the advantage, particularly if he can jump from behind his marker. The defender must always attempt to position himself nearer the goal if possible.
Ensuring that the forward cannot catch the ball and taking his chances with the breaking ball will be Hanbury’s best chance of success.
CIAN LYNCH V JOHNNY COEN
Midfield, as it was traditionally known, where two players from each side battled for supremacy in a defined space, is no more. In the modern game, midfielders are akin to ‘box-to-box’ soccer players. They provide support for their attack and assist the defence in times of need.
They are link players who help transition the ball from defence to attack, rather than the ‘independent longball strikers’ of bygone days.
Limerick’s Cian Lynch and Galway’s Johnny Coen are similar type players and will more than likely face off against each other. Lynch is composed on the ball.
He looks for the simple advantageous offload, dinks the ball over the top to a colleague, and makes himself available for quick puckouts. However, it is as a support for the attack that has made him effective in the team’s system.
He has the ability to ghost in from behind the play and reach goal scoring or ‘tap over’ point areas in front of the goal.
How Coen limits this threat will have a big bearing Sunday. Staying close to Lynch and forcing him to offload inaccurately is a must for the Tribesman.
Coen is a similar player.
A former corner back, he defends well from his position when danger threatens. He also joins the attack to set up or score some points. However, he needs to be more clinical with the final ball as Galway have recently struggled to set up clear-cut goal chances by running at defenders.
NICKIE QUAID V JAMES SKEHILL
Normally when you are looking at ‘head to head’ individual battles the focus is outfield.
However, in the modern game the influence of the respective goalkeepers is immense. The main task of the goalkeeper is still net-minding.
As a coach, all I ever wanted from a ‘keeper was to be well positioned to block shots that should be blocked, to be neat and tidy around the square, and to be sensible with the ball in hand — in general play and from restarts.
Confidence is a huge thing for a defensive unit and having a goalkeeper who performs the basics well contributes enormously to building that confidence.
If a goalkeeper pulls off a spectacular save, that’s a major bonus. Above all, what a team requires is to have no unforced goalkeeping errors.
If either Quaid or Skehill commits one such, it could send huge negative shockwaves through the team, as well as boosting the confidence of the opposition.
Both ‘keepers will get five or six possessions during general play. Whoever sets up the more effective attacks from these gives an advantage to their side.
In these scenarios, the play is unstructured and smart passes can lead to openings for major scores. Remaining composed and calm and setting up good attacking positions in these situations, rather than just striking long downfield or out over the sideline makes a huge difference.
In the modern game, the puckout is viewed as the first attacking delivery. Accurate deliveries by keepers are now a requirement whereas in bygone times, it was the length of the puck that mattered.
Limerick have brought the quick restart to a new level and Nickie Quaid can find his colleague even before the whistle has sounded.
These quick restarts set up effective attacks and can catch the opposition out, as an opposing player can lose focus for a second or two when the ball goes dead.
Quaid is more tidy around the square than James Skehill whereas the Galway No 1 has a longer puckout — an advantage if he needs to go direct to Johnny Glynn at the edge of the square.
This duel will have a big bearing on the result.
Whoever brings the better speed of reflexes, positioning, accuracy of deliveries and, above all, composure has the edge.
SEAN FINN V CONOR WHELAN
The Limerick corner-back is a close marking sticky, ‘in your face type’ of player with excellent ball skills and the mentality of a defender.
He is physically strong and fast.
He is also very cute when tackling opponents as he uses his free hand to great effect on the blindside of the referee.
Whelan is arguably Galway’s best forward. He has been neglected by their tactic of striking long ball towards their taller attackers.
He can be devastating if supplied with quality ball. He is very quick, difficult to knock off the ball and he is a good finisher.
Tactically, Whelan has been deployed further out from goal in recent games. Galway need to keep him near the danger zone.
The Tribe’s attack has rarely ran with purpose against inside defences looking for goals, content with tap overs from 20/30m.
They need Whelan to reactivate this part of his game.
It will be a crucial contest with the quality of the incoming supply deciding it in favour of the defender or attacker
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved