Oh, the endless crunching of points for, points against and wides per game! Oh, those late nights poring over potential matchups and their myriad implications! Or the reverse: a simple “Ah, that crowd are better than the other crowd so they’ll probably win” — then construct the preview around that scaffolding. Not complicated and arguably none the worse for that.
In the current instance, on the eve of the People’s Final, we’re happy to provide full disclosure. Your correspondent asserted in mid-May that the All-Ireland would be Tipperary’s provided they beat Galway if and when it came to it. One of these horses fell.
The other approaches the final fence tomorrow. We’re on the nag in maroon and we’re not about to give it a clip on the ear.
“And is my heart not badly shaken?” as Kavanagh — Patrick, not Michael — once mused. No. Nothing has happened at any stage this summer to shake the belief that it would be Galway if it wasn’t Tipperary.
They have the package. The wrapping paper is not gaudy but that’s no bad thing. Press the package, poke it, prod it. It does not yield the way it used to yield.
Galway have radiated the same poise, serenity and sense of purpose Michael Ryan’s men exhibited in 2016. They’ve been scoring points for fun. They do not show off. Their calmness and consistency of response saw them as unruffled by John McGrath’s goal in the All-Ireland semi-final as by Diarmuid O’Keeffe’s goal in the Leinster final. By having Joe Canning and David Burke foraging deep they’ve taken good care to ensure they don’t get opened up. And in the All-Ireland semi-final the heights of their attacking sextet read 6’2, 6’2, 6’4, 6’0, 6’2, 6’2 (subs: 6’4, 6’0, 6’5). That isn’t so much a forward line as a range in the Hindu Kush.
Yet is this necessarily a good thing? Are Galway possiblybig? Too straightforward, too easy to see coming, too short on nuance? Heavy-metal hurling needs a sax break every now and then. After a quarter of a century of a surfeit of handy little forwards, might tomorrow be the day they’ll need a Damien Hayes to get in the window when trying to boot down the front door has failed?
Granted, they weren’t overly impressive four weeks ago but they always appeared to have a little in hand and they’ll come on for the run — their first serious test of the summer, remember. And though they’ve hitherto been content to point — literally — their way to victory, tomorrow may be the day when they belatedly go mad in the final 30 metres of the field. Certainly, it would come as no surprise to learn Micheál Donoghue has instructed his troops to embrace any early 40/60 goal chances instead of popping the sliotar over the bar. Go baldheaded for green flags and present Waterford with the same mountain to climb as Limerick were faced with after 10 minutes in 2007.
In view of Galway’s point scoring fixation, odds of 16/1 about No Goals look generous. But this is one afternoon when both sides cannot live by white flags alone. Waterford will probably need to score two more goals than their opponents in order to win.
Could they? They could. There are goals to be mined from the favourites’ full-back line. They haven’t been much tested, what with Offaly bent on damage limitation and the Wexford forwards not actually trying to score goals. They haven’t much impressed when they were.
Jack Guiney worked his way back from the endline altogether too easily for Wexford’s goal in the Leinster final. Sloppy defending led to Tipperary’s goal in the semi-final and also led to Seamus Callanan very nearly grabbing the second goal. One wouldn’t like to see John Hanbury against a Waterford speedster zipping in off the bench.
This is a September pairing that has been coming down the tracks since the 2006 final, perhaps even since Jerry O’Connor redefined the role of the midfielder in 2004-05. Defend from the front. Fill every gap. Banks of three all the way up to the half-forward line.
There’s no sleight of hand. Galway and Waterford do what they do and don’t try to be too clever about it. They have their separate but distinctive structures and they protect the D with a determination and precision that would make Arsene Wenger weep. Twenty-nine players on the field, Canning included, toil diligently and do not essay the improbable. The 30th, that chap from Mount Sion, may do just about anything. Possibly including hitting the western seaboard of the US with his long-range missiles.
Which team will be asymmetrical? Does either have to be? Probably Waterford on the basis that they’ll be ground down by waves of maroon if they don’t hit the enemy with a couple of curveballs. Galway’s formation is far from orthodox. Conor Cooney the arrowhead, Conor Whelan just off him, Joseph Cooney way back on the opposition puckout, Canning and Burke each defending a line deeper than the number on their back implies. The midfield pairing has symmetry with a twist: Burke, the stylist, is the one who sits.
he rights and alleged wrongs of Waterford’s favoured configuration do not need an umpteenth airing. But two observations, nonetheless. Firstly, the players seem to like what they’re doing, so who is any outsider to object? Secondly, after they broke through in 1998, it took the county 10 years to reach an All-Ireland final. Under Derek McGrath, they’ve done it in four. He has given them identity, structure, a healthy degree of success and — because for the Waterfords of the hurling world, success is not necessarily measured in silverware — an even healthier degree of achievement. Please praise the man instead of trying to bury him.
He has one task tomorrow and one only. Get boots on the ground. Twice hotly fancied in big games over the past two seasons, last year’s Munster final and first time around versus Cork this year, Waterford twice failed to turn up.
Nor, clearly, can the heads explode like they did in 2008. That team was a box of fireworks and contained plenty of lads you’d have a fine night in the pub with but wouldn’t necessarily have around to babysit. McGrath wasn’t on that team but he wasn’t far away. These guys, on the other hand, you’d happily welcome in the front door. They number only one firework but it’s the biggest object in the box and must be handled with extreme care. Human nature being what it is, Galway will make a point of going in late on Austin Gleeson in the opening minutes. Gleeson had better make a very obvious point of laughing it off.
Some other observations.
While a Galway victory would be a handsome tribute to Tony Keady they’re not trying to win this for anyone but themselves and their families and shouldn’t dream of believing otherwise. Donoghue has surely driven that one home.
Your correspondent once suggested that Waterford build a statue to Brick Walsh. They might now consider putting one of Kevin Moran alongside him. This is among many reasons — time and tide,and so forth — Déise folk cannot assume they will have other and better Croke Park opportunities in the coming years. It is in no way overdoing it to assert it’ll be a long time before they possess two attack leaders with the muscularity, fixity of purpose, and clarity of thinking as Walsh and Moran.
Pick your Team of the Decade today and Noel Connors is the man in the number four jersey, with the pack a furlong behind. But Conor Whelan, who goes lower to pluck the sliotar than any man since Brian Lohan, on Connors is a matchup Galway will attempt to bring about. Overload on the left and hit diagonal balls into the right corner, bypassing Tadhg de Búrca.
Waterford’s momentum shouldn’t be overlooked. They stepped into new version of themselves when they beat Kilkenny and as a result of the manner of same.
Galway’s progress confirmed what we suspected at the time. Last year’s All Ireland semi-final was one to lose. A second season of Donoghue has made a new team of them.
Someone will surely end up consummating what’s known as Doing a Fergie Tuohy on It. Niall Burke for Galway? Jake Dillon for Waterford? Heaven knows. That’s the joy of it.
If a 20-man effort is required for victory, then the day will be Waterford’s. We know what and who they can spring. It’s not only Danny Rose who’d have to google some of the lads on the Galway bench.
Much as the Waterford/Cork semi-final constituted a cautionary tale when it comes to hazarding a guess at the final score, a tally of 2-22 or 1-23 should suffice here. Galway, with their fusillade of arrows from distance, look likelier to attain that bottom line. And of the two semi-finals, their collision with Tipp had a truer tone and temper to it than did Waterford/Cork, a match contorted by Damien Cahalane’s dismissal and Cork’s failure to think on their feet, bring back an extra defender and thereby kill space.
You’ve seen our thought processes. This is our verdict. Galway have the package. Theythe package.