Three experts address the burning hurling questions...
What are the reasons to believe Galway can close that seven-point gap from the Leinster final?
Davy Fitzgerald (Clare manager): If they play to the same style as they did against Kilkenny that day, they won’t win. They have to move their backs, they have to stop pucking aimless balls in one-on-one situations.
Physically, they are strong but Kilkenny are the masters of one-on-one against any team they play and I don’t care how strong the other team is. They have to find space and move the Kilkenny backs into space. If they do that they’re in with a chance.
Niall Corcoran (Dublin defender): With the way Galway’s forwards are moving since the Leinster final, they’re much sharper in front of goal. Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn have really added to it and young Conor Whelan has been a great find. They’ve shown they have a lot more to offer than the Leinster final.
Liam Griffin (1996 All-Ireland winning Wexford manager): Besides all the obvious things Galway have going in their favour after the last two games, like the forwards being on fire and the confidence they’ve generated, I think there’s a more realistic mood in the county. In the past they’ve struggled with the huge expectation, people thought they had a God given right to do well at senior level because of the bit of underage success. Everyone’s more grounded there and that’s a big help.
Call the surprise tactical change. Or are there any surprises left?
Davy Fitzgerald: It’s going to come down to two things: who Galway put at the edge of the square and how they keep fellas away from him and make sure it’s one-on-one. I wouldn’t mind leaving Johnny Glynn at the edge of the square, personally, and tell the other boys to move out a small bit and then come in for the breaks. On the other side, I would make sure to protect the edge of their own square. They can’t afford to give three goals against Kilkenny otherwise they will lose.
Niall Corcoran: I’d love to see Daithí Burke at full-back, whether Galway do it or not is another thing. He did a great job on ‘Bonnar’ Maher and I think he’d do a great job on TJ Reid. Other than that I can see both teams going at it pretty much man for man.
Liam Griffin: The big surprise for me is that Joe Canning hasn’t hit the form he’s capable of hitting and that has got to change if they’re to win. So I’m looking for something from Joe, a really big game. It depends on how they play him, if he gets enough room he’ll do damage. But Canning may inter-change to centre-field or centre-forward. The bottom line is that if he’s going to have one of his great games, he needs to find the room to do it.
After a summer of tactical tweaking, we were back to man-to-man for the summer’s best game. Was too much made of the supposed revolution? Can you win an All-Ireland set up to contain?
Davy Fitzgerald: I thought Waterford were phenomenal this year. They have made savage progress coming from Division 1B and they were struggling last year. They made massive progress. Certainly, their tactics helped them become competitive. I think it all depends on the players you have. You play with the strengths you have. You look at the likes of Waterford and Clare - they wouldn’t be as physically strong as other teams but they have unreal hurlers and you have to play with the hand you’re dealt.
Niall Corcoran: The All-Ireland final is your one big chance so you have to go for it and I think both teams will, particularly Galway. I don’t see sweepers playing any part in this game. At the same time, Kilkenny’s backs are that bit tighter so Galway won’t score 25 or 26 points.
Liam Griffin: It will be more orthodox but it’s not going to be 15 on 15 either. That day is gone. You’re not going to see a corner-forward starting there and staying there and I think that makes it all more interesting. People go on about it like it’s a terrible development. They’re saying, ‘sure Waterford will never win an All-Ireland playing that way’. But who said Waterford were expected to win the All-Ireland this year? They made great progress and more power to them.
Who was the summer’s most influential hurler?
Davy Fitzgerald: TJ Reid. I don’t even need to think about that.
Niall Corcoran: Probably TJ Reid. His physicality has really impressed me. He’s strong now and he has the hurling ability. His goal against Waterford was a one chance, one goal scenario. He’s clinical.
Liam Griffin: Seamus Callanan has been absolutely amazing. Just because he’s not in the All-Ireland final, doesn’t mean his performance against Galway will be equalled by anyone.
And the unheralded star that came from nowhere?
Davy Fitzgerald: Johnny Glynn would probably be the most unheralded player. I know he got two goals against Tipperary last year but he’s still come out of nowhere.
Niall Corcoran: I’d be looking at young Cathal Mannion, he’s been on fire and it’s just what Galway have needed.
Liam Griffin: Tadgh de Búrca of Waterford. Taking the league and championship into account, the job he was doing in Waterford’s defence was obvious to everyone but he never stopped being effective, even against Kilkenny.
Which novel feature of the hurling year most pleased you? And which one most irked you?
Davy Fitzgerald: Waterford winning the league just opened up everything for everyone. That was great as was the Galway-Tipperary game, a fantastic game of hurling. What was most frustrating for us this year would have to be relegation.
It was a tough call, we were losing games by one or two points. It’s tough for a county like Clare who have just got back up to the top ranks over the last three or four years.
Niall Corcoran: You’d have to admire how Waterford were under huge pressure, particularly the manager, but came out and won the league. That was a huge testament to how far they’ve come and they had a good championship too. Laois’ win over Offaly was huge for them.
This year’s championship overall has been, not poor, but a bit tactical. I don’t know whether managers are over analysing or what. Maybe from Dublin’s point of view, we were guilty of that. I just think there’s a good few teams that didn’t reach their potential at all.
Liam Griffin: I’m not saying I love defensive systems but full marks to someone who sits down and says, ‘we can be better if we play a different way’. It’s brought Waterford a league title and to a Munster final. In athletic terms they got a personal best for themselves and that deserves a lot of credit.
When I was on the Hurling Development Committee, we had a situation where the winners of Munster and Leinster didn’t automatically get to an All-Ireland semi-final but played a quarter-final. I’d love to see that revisited. You get a cup and a big set of medals for winning your province, why should you be guaranteed a semi-final place as well?
Football people say hurling gets a kinder press. Are they right and if so, does hurling deserve it?
Davy Fitzgerald: I haven’t heard that being said too much if I’m honest. People have said this is not a great championship. The media more or less call it the way they see it. I think they’re pretty balanced and fair with what they do.
Niall Corcoran: Football has taken a bit of a battering all right, from the flak Tyrone have taken to all the talk about sledging earlier in the summer. In fairness to hurling, I don’t think there’s anything that’s warranted huge criticism. The only small negative is that it’s gone a bit defensive with sweepers and defensive systems. But the game is pretty healthy generally.
Liam Griffin: I’m not saying hurling people are all superior, far from it, but I think the coverage reflects the games and what is happening in both. Football is very complex and it’s full of pulling and dragging whether you like it or not. So that leads to all kinds of issues which you just don’t get to the same extent in hurling.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved