Not everyone is happy that Galway are playing Dublin this evening. “How come they didn’t beat Monaghan?” came the cries from the Kingdom all week. “Galway are wasting their time playing Dublin in a semi-final after their no-show against Monaghan,” is the consensus from Kerry.

Pat Spillane made his intentions clearly known in his typical yet unique style that he finally wants the Kerry job. How would The Sunday Game survive without him?

Will he finally get to implement his dreams for pure Kerry football and pit his wits against Kevin McStay on the sideline or the stand?

Seamus Moynihan would be my selection, but Kerry football folk don’t like Galway folk at present, because we knocked them out of the championship.

What did happen to Galway last Saturday? The truth is there is no simple explanation. A series of little details. But the little details are always the most important details. Emotion was the overriding detail.

The first thing is Galway were through. They succeeded like Dublin, Monaghan, and Tyrone in winning their first Super 8 game in Croke Park.

Momentum was key. Suddenly, their initial hopes of qualifying out of their group rocketed overnight to topping the group.

Secondly, after beating Kildare, the Galway supporters, who were thankfully allowed to mix with the players on the pitch, were oozing with emotion. Their team had attained an All-Ireland semi-final spot, the first since 2001.

Let’s be honest, the Galway players aren’t familiar with this. The oldest Galway players, Sean Armstrong and Frankie Burke, were 15 years old in 2001 while two of the youngest current players were only aged four and just getting ready for junior infants, namely Sean Kelly and Peter Cooke.

When your team wins, supporters want more. A win no longer seems enough.

Finally, due to the malfunctioning fixture planning that currently exists in the GAA, the Galway players and management were already planning for an All-Ireland semi-final regardless of the result against Monaghan.

They would be playing in Croke Park the following weekend. Players making advanced plans around work, family, and tickets. Management making plans around travel, hotels, and the opposition. What opposition? Who would they be playing?


Donegal or Tyrone or Dublin? Everything moved too fast for this current panel of players. They failed to slow down and properly assess their final group game. A Monaghan team who currently have more experience than this Galway team.

The mantra all week in Ballybrit was ‘Win and we avoid Dublin’. Players can’t escape and hide away from these soundbites. Staying away from the Galway Races might help but ultimately players will get these vibes from a different source.

These vibes blunt the edges of your game. You are not diving head first in for a breaking ball.

You point the finger for someone else to make the bone-crushing tackle. You hide a little more on the field. You’re minding your position on the field and cradling your opponent. The opposition sense this attitude within minutes of a game starting. They’re given time and space. They sense blood.

They need blood. It was ‘do or die’ for them. Monaghan needed this victory more than Galway. Another valuable learning experience for this Galway team. Don’t listen to the outside voices. This is critical for Galway’s chances of success this evening.

How can Galway win and will they change tactics against the All-Ireland champions?

Galway have played the containment game all year. They shouldn’t and won’t change this style now. The first 10 minutes is the most critical period for this young Galway side. They have been excellent to date at not conceding early goals.

Only Roscommon have bagged a goal in the first half against Galway in this year’s championship. They can’t allow Dublin to poach an early goal. If they survive that early danger period, then any hangover from the Monaghan game will evaporate quickly.

How do Galway prevent goal chances? Maroon clad Supermacs jerseys populate the area around Ruairí Lavelle’s goal.

They move like chess pieces shepherding and shadowing. They force the opposition to shoot from distance and tight angles. This has been a very successful ploy for Galway to date.

The problem for Galway this evening is that they are facing the best problem-solving team in the country, who relentlessly seek to find individual and collective weaknesses.

Dublin, when allowed to hold possession through shadowing and shepherding, have honed their technique at finding small gaps. They can score points with minimal space. They can engineer a goal chance if you blink at the wrong time. Every Dublin player can provide the assists and get on the scoresheet.

Galway’s current system means that sometimes ‘no player’ makes the tackle. While we won’t change our system this evening, we need to change our attitude within this system. We need to challenge these Dublin players. Instead of always shadowing and shepherding we need to engage fully with a physical tackle.

Stop their runs, stop their momentum. Bring the ferocity in the tackle, use their chest and shoulders and rip the ball back. Bring this attitude for the full game and if Dublin can still navigate their way around this, well at least they’ve earned it. When Galway do rip the ball away from Dublin, it’s the next part of the jigsaw that will determine the outcome of the game.

The offensive strategy

Galway will always create enough scoring chances to win any game. Our efficiency and scoring ratio will have to be at an all-time high this evening. I mean at Wall Street levels. Up to now, when Galway go on the counter-attack, the opposing teams have had a sweeper in place and numerous players have sprinted back to cover.

Galway have been given time and space to move the ball quickly into Ian Burke and Damien Comer. What Galway won’t really have faced up to now is volcanic pressure around the middle third and rigid man-markers.

Dublin really like to squeeze teams in the middle third. Brian Howard, Con O’Callaghan, and Niall Scully are to the fore in this regard. Dublin’s motto seems to be, ‘If I lose possession, I get it back’.

Gareth Bradshaw, Sean Kelly, Shane Walsh, and Peter Cooke are Galway’s best kick-passers, in Paul Conroy’s absence. They will need to be very accurate this evening when passing to their inside men as Dublin’s rigid man-markers are extremely well practised and disciplined.

Ian Burke can expect Eoin Murchan to hear his confession. Shane Walsh will have sprint races with Jack McCaffrey and Damien Comer will get the four-legged treatment off Cian O’Sullivan and Jonny Cooper.

To counter this, I would love to see Galway play with a dice formation in attack. Damien Comer and Ian Burke on top, nearest to Stephen Cluxton’s goal with Shane Walsh and Michael Daly playing just outside them.

The four attackers must be mobile and interchangeable. Galway will pose Dublin a lot of questions if they are brave enough to keep four players in offensive mode for the majority of the contest. It would also limit the temptation for the sky-blue defenders to forage forward, as is their preference.

It would be very interesting to see how Dublin react if they were constantly in defensive mode. These four Galway forwards must be willing to make the selfless runs, win the dirty ball, take their men on and constantly support each other in pursuit of a big score. To win this game, I believe we have to score goals.

Mayo have showed that if you constantly run at Dublin from all angles and with multiple support runners you will get goal opportunities. It’s not easy, though, to get too many past Stephen Cluxton on the big stage.

It’s more than a big stage.

It’s an amphitheatre with a special atmosphere and when the Dubs are playing the noise and pressure goes up tenfold.

This evening’s clash will be the 10th time the teams have locked horns in championship football since 1922.

The score stands 7-2 to the Dubs. Galway’s two victories came in the 1933 All-Ireland semi-final and in the 1934 All-Ireland final. The scoreline in 1934, Galway 3-5 Dublin 1-9.

The last time this pair went head-to-head was in 1983, one of the bleakest days for Galway football. Dublin won by two points, on a scoreline of 1-10 to 1-8. The man responsible for handing out red cards on that dreary, wet miserable afternoon was an Antrim man, named John Gough.

The man responsible for Galway’s woes that same day was a Dublin player called Barney Rock. He scored 1-6. Now his son, Dean Rock, will be trying to follow in his father’s footsteps this evening and continue Dublin’s dominance over the Tribesmen.

This Galway team is still learning its trade at the top. They’ve earned a crack at the champions. Their league performances have given them the self-confidence to ‘have a cut’. They’ve muscled Mayo and Kerry along the way.

The big question for Galwegians is have we perfected our transition game enough to topple Dublin or do we need more time?

Any weak link in the team and the system will be cruelly exploited by Dublin because they possess highly-skilled, intelligent, and ruthless players who will show no mercy or emotion in carving out a victory.


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