Leinster SHC semi-final: Galway v Offaly, 2pm ... Paul Killeen’s season-ending cruciate tear means this Galway team now picks itself.
Sounds too good to be true, I know.
The irresponsible teenager of the hurling championship, who can’t be trusted to win when they’re supposed to and with whom expectation never sat easily, now has this frighteningly composed look about them. And we only in the middle of June.
T’is only a matter of time, surely, before they revert to the bad habits of old. English Paper I might have fallen in their favour, but they’d never get the bounce of the ball in Paper II as well. Mind you, they’re pretty fond of the drama section. It’s poetry where the westerners tend to draw a blank.
That Galway supporters didn’t have to wait until the late hours of last night to rhyme off Micheál Donoghue’s starting team for the trip to O’Moore Park has them giddy and anxious in equal measure for what lies beyond O’Moore Park. Not in either of the last two summers when Galway stayed hurling until September has the team been this settled this early.
Back in 2012, the Galway selection which opened their championship campaign with a 5-19 to 4-12 win over Westmeath had undergone significant surgery by the time the Artane Band turned left at the corner of the Hogan Stand on September’s first Sunday. There had been four changes in personnel, while just six players — full-back Kevin Hynes, centre-back Tony Óg Regan, midfielder Iarla Tannian, centre-forward Niall Burke, left half-forward Cyril Donnellan and right corner-forward Damien Hayes — were still operating from the position in which they began the championship. Of that sextet, just Hynes, Regan, and Tannion played in the same position for each of their six championship outings. Everyone else, at one point or another, was asked to engage in musical chairs.
2015 was better, a closer relation to how this summer is shaping up than how the summer of ’12 shaped out. Anthony Cunningham handed championship starts to 21 players. Four of those, Niall Healy, Davy Glennon, Gearoid McInerney, and Fergal Moore, were afforded a solitary start. Joseph Cooney got two. In essence, 16 players were in the reckoning. Everyone else was supporting cast.
Mind you, management’s preferred team didn’t come together until the trimming of Cork on the Sunday before Race week. 18-year old Conor Whelan was thrown into the attack, David Burke reverted to midfield, Aidan Harte swapped the nine shirt for seven, with Fergal Moore dropping to the bench.
That was late July. Today is June 17. And there’s not a single question mark surrounding the make-up of this Galway team.
Ahead of the league final, we wondered who Donoghue would opt for in the full-back line. Paul Killeen or John Hanbury was the choice.
Killeen had been selected in four of the earlier rounds, tried in a different position each time. Hanbury, most comfortable directly in front of Callanan, was included for every outing bar the facile victory away to Kerry.
Management went for Daithí Burke at full-back, meaning it was the number four shirt which required filling. Killeen was favoured, as he was for the Leinster opener against Dublin.
He lasted 26 minutes, a cruciate knee injury bringing the curtain down on his 2017 season. In came Hanbury. And there he should remain.
“I like that there is a consistency about this team, there is no experimentation,” said former Galway hurler Iggy Clarke ahead of the league final win.
“In the not too distant past, you could have said that our forwards were strong and that our defence wasn’t as strong. I think it has balanced up in the last while. We’d have always believed back in the 70s that we needed to know each other as a team. In the 70s, the team picked itself. That is what I like about this present set-up. The team is nearly picking itself. Those on the subs bench, they know they have to knock out somebody else who is a regular there.”
There was never any debate here to begin with. Colm Callanan has been between the sticks for seven of their nine competitive outings in 2017.
Full-back has long been an issue for Galway hurling and the present administration realise Daithí Burke is the safest option for this berth. The 2015 and ’16 All Star was handed the number three shirt for the league quarter-final and while deployed further out against Limerick, the 24-year-old marshalled the edge of the square against Tipperary and Dublin. Adrian Tuohy, having spent February and early March in the half-back line, is heading for a fourth consecutive start at right-corner-back.
Gearoid McInerney has been at centre-back for their last five games. Management looked at three different players in this position during last year’s championship. That’s unlikely to be the case this summer. Beside him, Pádraic Mannion is heading for a fifth consecutive start on the right flank. Aidan Harte completes the line.
Same partnership (David Burke and Johnny Coen) since February 12. Contrast this with the 2013 and ‘14 championship campaigns where six different partnerships were tried across seven games.
At a gig in Croke Park a few years back, Damien Hayes labelled as disruptive the talk about which position best suited Joe Canning. Cunningham preferred the Portumna man on the edge of the square. Donoghue, on the other hand, has made him a permanent fixture at centre-forward. He’s another who’s heading for a fifth consecutive start in the same position tomorrow. He’ll be flanked by Cathal Mannion and Joseph Cooney.
Jason Flynn (1-2), Conor Cooney (1-3), and Conor Whelan (0-5) shared 2-10 against Dublin. Enough said.
With consistency of selection achieved, followers of the maroon and white will be praying that consistency of performance is sustained far beyond tomorrow’s Portlaoise venture.
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