Galway will feed on this plateful of experience

Let’s be honest, all Galwegians were all a little nervous settling into our seats yesterday afternoon. 

Galway will feed on this plateful of experience

I’m sure the players were nervous too and determined to put in a big performance. We wanted a solid performance. We didn’t want Dublin to dictate the terms. We wanted to express ourselves. We didn’t want to be exposed. We wanted the team to believe in itself. We didn’t want Stephen Rochford to go home smiling.

Leaving our seats following the presentation, we could be quietly satisfied with the team’s performance. The players will have a pep in their step getting ready for May 13.

Dublin’s game-management in the final 10 minutes was terrific and Jim Gavin will also be quietly satisfied that they could handle anything that Galway threw at them. Both teams will reflect positively and move forward quickly.

I looked closely at the kickout strategy of both goalkeepers yesterday and, more importantly, the outcomes of each kick-out. I will dissect Dublin’s second half restarts shortly. In the first half, Stephen Cluxton went long with seven and only two were popped short. This was a very unusual sight for those of us who normally watch Cluxo ping them short and sweet.

Was this strategy a direct result of the new rule change, requiring goalkeepers to kick the ball outside the 21-metre line, or were Dublin confident that they would win the aerial duels? My assessment was that Galway forced Dublin to kick it long and it worked.

Galway won four from seven long restarts. They only allowed Dublin to get two short kicks away in the opening half. James McCarthy won the two short kick-outs, one clean and one from a break. The outcome of those two short kickouts? A point for Niall Scully with the first and a pulled hamstring for James McCarthy with the second.

As McCarthy attempted to kick a pass to Kilkenny just before half-time, his weakened kick was intercepted by the impressive Galway midfielder Ciaran Duggan. Johnny Heaney capitalised with a fine shot to leave the sides level at the interval.

The problem for Galway was that from the four first kickouts they won, they only hurt Dublin on the scoreboard once, again through Johnny Heaney. If Galway can keep competitive on all oppositions kickouts during the championship, then they will create more scoring chances for themselves. I hope they will embrace these future opportunities.

Ruairi Lavelle, who probably nailed ‘save of the year’ yesterday, got four short kickouts off successfully in the first half. The four outcomes? Lost possession to Dublin through wayward passes, dropped shots and, crucially, a converted free to Dean Rock. Galway held possession brilliantly at times, but the final pass on occasion let them down. They will learn from this and will become a better team as a result.

From my Canal End seat and with the choirs of Dublin and Galway fans screaming in my ears, this was my take on the second half kickout strategy from Cluxton:

Cluxton 1 — Short to the ‘pocket rocket’ Eoin Murchan. Lots of Dublin possession ending with a great scoring chance for Paul Mannion. Wide.

Cluxton 2 — Short to the raiding Davy Byrne. Lots of Dublin possession but Galway overturn them. Shane Walsh and Damian Comer combine to set up Paul Conroy. He’s fouled by Niall Scully. Second yellow for Scully, early shower for Scully. McHugh converts free.

Cluxton 3 — Short to Murchan. Dublin surge upfield, Mannion’s attempted point is brilliantly blocked. Galway counter and shot opportunity falls to big Sean Andy. Wide.

Cluxton 4 — Short to Fenton. Dublin attack, but Rock losses possession. Galway win tricky free. Shane Walsh with a left-footed beauty off the deck.

Cluxton 5 — Short to Fitzsimons. Dubs move at pace. Mannion does a dummy solo, but goes into a maroon wall. Free in. Free in? For what, ref? Bad call. Rock converts.

Cluxton 6 — Short to Eric Lowndes. Dubs advance. Fenton falls. Throw-up. Galway win throw-up and motor downfield. Cooper fouls again. Second yellow surely? No yellow, Conroy kicks the free away. Dubs are mad, advance with purpose. Great hands, great movement, great shot from Rock. Must be a goal? What a save. Tipped out for a 45. Rock converts.

Cluxton 7 — Long. Pardon? Yes, I said long. The smallest Galway defender jumps highest. Mark for Eoin Keirns. Galway lose possession, Dublin counter and the author Philly kicks a beauty.

Cluxton 8 — Long to Con. Dublin keep possession and win at least three frees, as they frustrate Galway with their ball-keeping skills and superb game management. But wait. Jonny Cooper kick is intercepted, Galway on the march, Conroy attacking… Tackle. Textbook near-hand tackle from Eoin Murchan. Dubs push forward and nail on an insurance point from Eric Lowdnes.

In comparison, Ruairi Lavelle had 11 restarts. He hit five short. The outcomes: Three points for Galway and two points for Dublin. He kicked the other six long. The results of these kicks? Three points and one wide for Dublin and one point and one wide for Galway.

In the first half, Galway forced Dublin long, but in the second half it was back to normal duty for Cluxton. There is plenty of food for thought for Galway after yesterday, but it’s good nutritional stuff. Not the stuff that the dietician will hand out on Tuesday night after training, but the stuff that comes from playing the best team in the country. That stuff is experience and we picked up a plateful yesterday. If that opportunity comes again this year, we need to remember the second half. Roll on the championship.

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