Five minutes before the end of the Connacht final, Rory Gallagher had left his seat along with the McHugh boys. He had seen enough.
I shouted to Rory “have you enough info?” He smiled and bolted on, trying to get a head start on the traffic home. He was wasting his time though, as the Galway fans had been streaming out before him. I’ve no doubt, he was stuck in traffic for ages and that he used his time constructively, hatching a plan to be dusted down if handed Galway in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
The following morning, the pairing became a reality and tonight Rory will get a chance to watch his players execute that plan formulated on the long drive home.
A little like Brexit (and all the spoof talk and the spoofer’s that speak about it), I can only speculate what Rory and the Tir Chonaill men might try tonight. I wonder will Rory cut to the chase and go direct.
Perhaps he will play Michael Murphy at full forward for the first 15 minutes. He could throw in another giant like Hugh McFadden alongside him and the balls will surely be dropped in like missiles into Galway’s most vulnerable line. Add Paddy McBrearty to hoover up any balls broken by the Murphy/McFadden axis, and the umpires can expect a busy start to their shift. Or will Rory and company play it cagey, drop boys back, give everyone a touch of the ball like we see in the underage Go Games before finally calling those umpires into action.
Donegal could go to town on Galway in the first quarter minutes if Kevin Walsh’s side are unprepared. Galway must show that we have learned from past defeats, like the Tipperary game in 2016. They must assume Donegal will target our weak spot. How do they counter this before the ball is thrown in? Does management stick with the same 15 who unintentionally failed to do themselves justice against Roscommon? I think Kevin and company have to be courageous and energise the team with some changes. I think they need to risk a little and play two big men in the full-back line. Finnan Hanley is injured so I would take a chance on our next biggest defender, David Walsh (6’4’’). He doesn’t have to graciously pluck balls from the sky like our ‘3 in a row’ hero Noel Tierney. All he has to do is spoil any potential aerial bombardment. Declan Kyne has enough grit and cuteness to break the ball away also. Someone has the unenviable task of man-marking Paddy McBrearty. Liam Silke, take a bow: you’re nominated. Crucially, if Donegal do fire missiles, often poshly referred to as “floated crossfield balls”, Galway must break them to the side to allow our half-backs an opportunity to sweep up the pieces.
Next up is the half-back line or in my opinion the platform for a Galway victory?
I would go with Johnny Heaney, Michael Farragher, and Cillian McDaid. My reasoning for such a radical selection is as follows: Heaney and McDaid have powerful engines and we need them to sweep up breaks from both our full-back line and midfielders.
We need them to drive purposely forward and we need them to show our half forwards that they don’t need to track so deep, all of the time, looking for the ball. Heaney and McDaid, if picked, could send a clear message to their forwards that they can handle things at the back. They will get the ball out quickly and will deliver early ball inside. They also have the speed and endurance to stick with the McHugh cousins, Ryan and Eoin.
Why would I pick Farragher at centre back? He has a footballing brain and he knows what it’s like to receive quality and quick ball from the half- back line. He has played countless big games for Corofin, underage Galway teams and GMIT. While he hasn’t accrued huge senior championship minutes recently, he’s enough quality to slot in this evening. He would also know the runs of Ian Burke who could be one of the most important men on the field for Galway tonight. Burke is a player in the template of Armagh’s Jamie Clarke. He is brilliant yet unpredictable. He has vision yet no one has had the foresight to play him, yet. Hopefully, that will change this evening.
I would play two big men — Paul Conroy and Michael Daly — in our full forward line to assist young Burke. Both are ball winners, both can assist and score and both players are flexible to play in any of the attacking positions.
At the other end of the field, I hope young 22-year-old Renvyle netminder Rory Lavelle isn’t made the scapegoat from the Connacht final meltdown. Any goalkeeper in the country who partakes in short kick-outs must have moving targets in front of him. He didn’t have enough moving targets in Pearse Stadium.
I would like to see Gary O’Donnell play in the midfield area along with former DCU winning Sigerson players Tom Flynn and Fiontan Ó Curraoin. All three are experienced players who must accept they didn’t provide the platform or leadership which was required two weeks ago. Flynn and Ó Curraoin both shared a Sigerson dressing room with Michael Murphy. They should know what makes him tick and how to possibly put him off his game. They must frustrate him and all the other Donegal leaders. Make no qualms about it, Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Karl Lacey, and Frank McGlynn will try and boss the game and the referee in Markievicz Park.
Donegal and Galway is an exceptionally difficult game to call. Both teams have great potential but in my opinion are currently performing inadequately with bad systems. Galway’s defensive frailties combined with zero goals scored in two championship games doesn’t auger well for this evening. However, with minor team surgery they might take off the handbrake and become more offensive.
The victors will get a chance to perform in Croke Park. The vanquished will be free to enjoy the Galway Races…
Rory, if you’re stuck, I know a good B&B in Oranmore...
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