Could do better: 3 areas Galway must improve to pass Kilkenny test

After the euphoria comes the analysis. Michael Moynihan puts away the emotion to evaluate Sunday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final winners.

Could do better: 3 areas Galway must improve to pass Kilkenny test

1. Route one

In the cold light of day, Galway boss Anthony Cunningham will know that tonight’s training session will have to focus on one core skill: defending the high ball.

It’ll disappoint Cunningham and his management team that Seamus Callanan got three goals, obviously, but it’ll chill the blood that he got them in such a straightforward way: a high ball came in, he outfielded the defender, Padraig Mannion, and finished clinically, even if his second goal went to the ‘wrong’ side of heroic keeper Colm Callanan. In the modern game, you expect a forward to have to work a lot harder to get a goal.

The real fear for Galway is that winning primary possession is a core value for Kilkenny. In the final, they are likely to move TJ Reid into full-forward with that aim in mind, and Reid’s left-handed approach makes him an awkward customer for most defenders.

Add in the fact that Reid is stronger this season after significant gym work and the Galway defenders can expect hours of preparation in the small square for the next few weeks as they seek to make their goalmouth safe against aerial attack.

2. Managerial challenges

It’s probably unfair to pick holes in the performance of a management team which found a way past opponents who racked up 3-16 in the semi-final, but Cunningham and his selectors were far too slow to make a change at full-back when it was clear that Seamus Callanan was likely to rattle the net every time he won the ball. They can’t be as laissez-faire the next time.

It’s not all negatives, though. After Sunday’s game, Cunningham also referred to the experience of 2012, when Galway took Kilkenny to a replay, and how that experience will be mined for the next few weeks.

For instance, Galway took a huge gamble in 2012 on goalkeeper James Skehill, who carried a serious shoulder injury into the replay and that gamble didn’t work out.

With Cunningham still wearing the bainisteoir’s bib, such specific errors are unlikely to be repeated — to quote a medic of this writer’s acquaintance, the necessity for a fitness test tells you the player isn’t fit enough anyway.

Add in the fact that most of the Galway players were involved in 2012 and it’s another crucial positive for Galway.

3. Alignment and formation

There was some surprise on Sunday in Croke Park when we didn’t see obvious sweepers being deployed, the general consensus being that county teams disembarking at Heuston Station were issued spare men at the back before they left the platform.

Funnily enough, orthodoxy discommoded both teams at different times. Galway suffered when space was left in front of Seamus Callanan because Iarla Tannian got dragged to the wings; Tipperary’s Padraic Maher, a spare man all summer, got caught in traffic in the middle third as the game ticked into the final quarter.

What works one day may not work on another occasion, though. Tannian impressed in those harum-scarum closing stages, playing a traditional storming centre-back role as he fielded and cleared, but do Galway need to offer more cover to their full-back line in the form of a spare body on the 45-metre line?

At the other end of the field, there are different challenges. Galway suffered in the Leinster final through a series of wayward clearances to Cillian Buckley, who swept across the Kilkenny half-back line to great effect. Galway dominated on Sunday in that middle third through work-rate and application, and if that isn’t replicated in September, they know they can’t win.

Finally, they hit 0-26 but no goals on Sunday, though they managed two terrific goals in the Leinster final. Do you see Galway winning the All-Ireland without raising a green flag? No, and neither do we.

Between going for goals and defending high balls, training in Galway is going to be pretty busy for the next three weeks.

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