Joe Canning is aiming for redemption in a do-or-die clash with Tipp, writes Diarmuid O’Flynn
IT’S hard being a forward in the modern game of hurling, with defenders becoming ever faster and more skilful. The task is more onerous again when you come up against a Kilkenny back division which is as mean and tough as any that ever played.
So it was with Galway in this year’s Leinster final. They went into that match with hopes high boasting a forward division that had been averaging 2-20 in the championship. They came out the other end with hopes shattered, their attack shredded – a paltry 1-12 return, six points of that scored in the final 12 minutes when the game was decided.
One member of that Galway attack is Joe Canning - he hasn’t the stomach to review the game.
“I haven’t watched the replay of that match so I don’t know exactly what went wrong. But it was one of those days — I didn’t hurl well, I know that myself. I have to get my own house in order and play better the next day.”
So what makes Kilkenny different in defence? “They play very tight together. The half-back line sits back, and doesn’t get dragged out so Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney (wing-backs) mop up everything in front of the full-back line. And their midfielders sit back all the time as well. I suppose they feel that if they don’t concede goals they’ll win the game.
“They work very hard individually and as a unit, they don’t get dragged out of position; they’re always only about 15 yards away from each other so it’s easy for them to get a handpass away and play their way out of trouble.
“We probably played into their hands too. A lot of our deliveries seemed to fall straight into Tommy Walsh’s hands when he was standing in front of the full-back line. That wasn’t the forwards’ fault, we were in position to get the ball, but you can hardly blame the backs either because they were probably clearing under pressure.”
The old Galway habit of carrying the ball also came back to bite them – a bad habit against any side but fatal against Kilkenny as it gives them the opportunity to get to the ball-carrier while simultaneously getting set in defence.
Canning agrees: “You need to score from out the field, try to draw their half-back line further out, but that’s very hard to do when their midfielders play so deep. Everyone is trying out a new system on them, and some day something will work.”
It hasn’t worked for anyone for the last four years (and counting) and in the meantime teams such as Galway are left to lick their wounds. They get another chance in the championship against Tipperary in Croke Park in the second of the two All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Facing them is a team which itself suffered a traumatic loss in Munster, against Cork in their opening championship game. The difference going into this one, however, is that since that defeat Tipperary have had a chance to regroup and have been involved in a successful back-door campaign, while Galway have been left twiddling their thumbs, confined to training sessions back in Pearse Stadium.
“Tipperary would have been the pretenders to Kilkenny’s throne for the last year or more but they had a big setback against Cork,” he said.
“In a way it was set up for Cork, no-one gave them a chance so that was kind of Cork’s D-day, if you like. Tipp have come back from that with the two wins over Wexford and Offaly.”
Surely, though, Galway know the same thing about themselves? “Yeah, we do, but it’s hard after getting a beating like that. We thought we’d give a better account of ourselves, and mentally that’s very draining. We didn’t have a match since then to get ourselves back on track. But this is it, this is the match.”
On a straight comparison, given how comfortably Tipperary coped with Offaly last Sunday in Portlaoise, given how Galway struggled on two occasions to get past that same Offaly side, the odds would appear to favour the Munster men. And even Canning was impressed with them against Offaly. “Their half-back line was very good, that was their launch pad, very strong. A lot of their forwards look sharp again, Eoin Kelly especially, Noel McGrath, Lar Corbett – they have a serious full-forward line if they get the right ball. That game was perfect preparation, they didn’t have to over-exert themselves. Offaly didn’t show what they showed against us, that’s for certain.”
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