PM O’Sullivan asks can Galway turn the tables in Sunday’s Leinster final showdown?
This weekend, Madame Guillotine arrives onstage.
Here come the warm jets that are the hurling qualifiers. Barring draws, tomorrow will sever a third of remaining counties from 2016. Should that plump percentage of casualties excite more interest?
You might think so. Howsoever… No point in caffling: nobody expects other than a win for Clare over Laois, for Limerick over Westmeath. Moot query, in both instances, will be assessment of how setback in Munster has been processed. Busy body language will be all.
As will be seeing whether Laois set up with two sweepers. And how Clare, if challenged in this fashion, cope with the entanglement.
Roster is often a fair pointer. These last nine weeks, Offaly had five championship outings. Meanwhile Wexford were out just once, that dismal showing against Dublin on May 21, six weeks ago.
This factor alone might be a Faithful tilt. All in all, Offaly may have an edge, even down in Wexford Park.
Cork and Dublin is a really difficult call. Both teams, as per Clare and Limerick, involve a demoralised dressing room. Cork drew home advantage (although this factor availed not their U21s last Tuesday evening, when Limerick departed unflattered by the seven-point margin).
Do Dublin have a shot in their locker? If they do, it is knowledge of commendable performance against Kilkenny in the first half. If Dublin can keep that measure for most of 70 minutes, and hurl with more directness, they can grab a lifeline.
The Cork shot? Knowledge that they came through this spring’s knife-edge NHL relegation final against Galway up in Salthill. Gumption brought about that outcome. Time plus gumption equals a resource.
I would no more make a definite prediction about this qualifier’s outcome than about the fallout from Brexit. Madame Guillotine, as the British public are quickly discovering, is not a biddable mistress.
Although Galway and Kilkenny face no immediate chop, their Leinster final on Sunday is high stakes. Whoever loses, should they survive an All-Ireland quarter-final, would have to beat Tipperary or Waterford to make the All-Ireland final. The short way round is decidedly the most plausible route. Losing this Leinster final will warp All-Ireland chances. I doubt the loser would negotiate that three-game ladder.
Various contexts frame this contest. There is the usual micro stuff, injury doubts around Galway’s David Burke (perhaps their most consistent operator) and Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan (unlikely to feature). Burke would be a major loss, in that a midfield pairing of Davy Glennon and Andy Smith would hardly best Michael Fennelly and Conor Fogarty.
Midfield exchanges remain crucial, because the Kilkenny anvil, where they absorb opposition energy, remains a serious asset. That implement? Their first choice midfield and a half-back line of Pádraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce and Cillian Buckley.
Parlaying energy into sufficient scores is almost impossible unless opposition midfielders get on top. Hitting that anvil soon slips into a sapping exercise. Still, Galway could field a half-forward line of Niall Burke, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney. This trio possesses farrier heft as well as nail-driving delicacy.
Sunday has an intriguing macro context too. Galway and Kilkenny met seven times in the championship over the last four seasons. Meeting so frequently in so short a span is unusual. A quick scan of the archives says this ratio comprises a record.
Galway succeeded in but one of those meetings, courtesy of spectacular triumph in the 2012 Leinster final, when they led by 14 points at half-time. Not insignificantly, Kilkenny took the second half by four points. Henry Shefflin and others referenced that turnaround following their eventual win over Galway in the replayed All-Ireland final. Second-half sliver got fashioned into a sword on that anvil.
Consider this factor. There is only so long you can keep losing to the same opponents and not end up suffering, psychologically, from dry rot. There is scant sense in saying that Galway should put off beating Kilkenny until Madame Guillotine stands glinting in the Hogan Stand. By that time, they might not be in Croke Park.
Word from over the Shannon holds that Micheál Donoghue and colleagues have kept plenty under the bonnet. They are said to have trained hard in the run up to meeting Offaly in their Leinster semi-final, confident they could vault that hurdle while in the midst of training. Despite a first-half scare, Galway did not come a cropper.
Kilkenny supporters were pleasantly surprised by their showing against Dublin in the other Leinster semi-final. That they travelled in numbers to Tullamore made clear the seriousness with which the challenge was viewed. The biggest question marks (Jonjo Farrell, Robert Lennon and Lester Ryan) passed with honours, by and large. Farrell, registering 1-5 from play, became an exclamation mark.
Kilkenny’s full-back line is still a question mark. Last day out, Paul Murphy was back to his ebullient best. But Joey Holden has yet to regain last season’s All Star form. Lennon deputised at left corner-back with reasonable success but is probably only fifth choice in the position. Jackie Tyrrell may return at 4.
If Galway are cute, they will keep their corner-forwards wide. They might likewise be smart in not deploying Joe Canning immediately at full-forward. Seeing Canning stymied, forcing a move to half-forward, is a well-trodden means of gaining psychological ascendancy over Galway and Portumna.
Likely, there is a simple enough equation. Score a goal more than Kilkenny and Galway will be right at the contest’s throat. Score two more than them and they will win. Galway are eminently capable of firing two goals.
How does this logic unspool? Well, their defence was not especially impressive against Offaly. Corner-back is an issue.
On that basis, Kilkenny can likewise harvest a couple of goals, with one perhaps a TJ Reid penalty.
This game, brimming with truths, will surely run tight and fast. If those two green flags get raised, Kilkenny should have goods sufficient unto July.
Something like 2-22 to 2-19.
Here's a little extra sport: BallTalk TV look ahead to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
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