DONAL O'GRADY: Puckout precision crucial to Limerick’s victory

This All-Ireland final was all about Limerick until the last 10 minutes.

Limerick had bossed most individual battles until Galway roused themselves as they saw their title slipping away.

One of the main areas of
interest was the role of the goalkeepers and how they managed their respective puckout strategies.

With the system that the new champions employed, the puckout battle was always going to be crucial.

Nickie Quaid oozed confidence throughout this encounter. His short puckouts were neat and crisp. He hit nine short puckouts in the first half, finding his man with ease with crisp head-height balls. When he went long there was a purpose to his deliveries and he only lost four long puckouts in this period, a success rate of over 78%, which is a stunning figure in such a high-pressure game.

 

Those deliveries were crucial for Limerick in the first half as it allowed them to settle into the game. The Treaty’s short puckouts were very effective because the Limerick receivers had a well-worked plan for transitioning the ball from defence to attack.

Galway had similar stats for their puckouts with a 77% win rating. James Skehill hit nine short puckouts in the game’s first half. Adrian Tuohey took three of these and ran the ball from defence. But even in the early exchanges it was clear the strategy wasn’t as well practised as that of Limerick.

Galway struggled to effectively move the ball forward from their defence; notably the Limerick attackers closed Tuohey down quickly and prevented any forays from the Galway half backline. This was a crucial aspect in deciding the game as it limited quality ball to the Galway attack.

Quaid was powerless for Galway’s two goals but I felt that Skehill could have done better for Graeme Mulcahy’s first goal. Instead of remaining upright he slid down feet first in a replica tackle of the one he made on Ger Aylward in the
replayed Leinster final.

That goal proved crucial, not just in terms of the scoreboard but it was a huge psychological boost for John Kiely’s men early in the game.

Mulcahy showed great determination to get through on that occasion and pressure from Limerick attackers
also forced two other crucial mistakes from Galway defenders which led to the other Limerick goals.

Limerick won two other crucial match-ups which proved vital in deciding this All-Ireland final.

Huge praise must go to Seamus Flanagan who was outstanding on the edge of the square.

His constant movement and support play dragged his marker away from the danger area and opened up space for others with Mulcahy, in particular, profiting.

Outside him, Kyle Hayes, nominally a centre-forward but covering acres of ground, gave a man-of-the-match display. His duel with Gearoid McInerney was always going to be crucial and the Limerick man’s display was a major reason for their victory.

It took more games than ever to decide this All-Ireland series. The quality and intensity of the contests in Munster (Leinster was much easier to navigate) followed by mammoth semi-finals saw only the Leinster winners progress to yesterday’s final.

When the dust settles and team managements start planning for next year’s championship, will they view the winning of the provincial final as an unnecessary step?

Limerick finished as the third team in Munster.
When they completed their
complement of games in the round-robin series, there was a three-week gap to their next match which allowed them a nice break to refresh and
recover.

Both Cork and Clare had only a two-week break before they did battle again. In contrast to Limerick, they had a tough encounter, physically and mentally, in the Munster final.

The following week the Treaty had a handy outing against Carlow and then faced into their quarter-final against Kilkenny. This was an ideal run in. There was then a two-week break before their semi-final against Cork, who had been inactive for four weeks.

At that stage of the season playing games every two weeks is the ideal preparation and they sharpen up one’s readiness for battle.

Cork won a Munster title, but was that four-week break the best preparation for the semi-final?

Did winning the provincial title work in their favour? Winning the Munster or Leinster title should convey some advantage.

Will Cork’s and Galway’s team management see the Munster title as a plus or a minus in terms of the All-
Ireland series?

Clare, who were runners-up in Munster, had a game against Wexford, which
didn’t take a whole lot out of them.

Two weeks later the Banner put it up to Galway in the semi, taking them to a replay.

Leinster was a different kettle of fish.

Apart from the drawn final against Kilkenny, Galway won all their games comfortably. If they had finished third in the province they would have played Clare in the quarter-final with the same breaks between games that Limerick had.

When Micheál Donoghue reflects on the year he may come to the conclusion that winning Leinster was no advantage for the All-Ireland series.

We have seen in football that winning the provincial final is no longer what it was in terms of the quest for Sam Maguire.

After yesterday, team managements may review their provincial ambitions and winning the Munster and Leinster championships may no longer be a priority. The number-three position in the provincial championship may be seen as the place to be. There was a recent report looking at where the GAA will be in 2034. Will the hurling provincial championships be a thing of the past by then, with an open draw in hurling when that year rolls around?


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