Cork's best may not be enough
WERE DIFFERENT counties trailing the same form, tomorrow’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final would be easy to call.
But overwhelmingly Galway’s most memorable results in the past two decades have been vibrant surprises, shots from the blue and the county’s biggest disappointments have invariably come when they were expected to build on a good performance.
After the sensational Leinster final rout of All-Ireland champions Kilkenny, Galway manager Anthony Cunningham declared that the pursuit of consistency would become a mantra for his team in the weeks leading up to this weekend.
There are reasons to believe the successful under-21 management from last year have wrought improvement. For a start they instilled less glitzy qualities to a team which, for all that a couple of those All-Ireland-winning 21s have stepped up to the mark, remains a familiar outfit with all of the reservations that the precedent of recent years would suggest.
They are regarded as fitter and more cohesive. Ollie Baker – the one manager to have faced both teams in this year’s championship – has made the point that Joe Canning has been far more of a team player so far, a role that the player has always fulfilled on successful teams but one which poor back-up has frequently prevented him from playing at senior inter-county level.
Cork have advantages and disadvantages. In terms of head-to-head comparisons they haven’t beaten this weekend’s opponents since 2008 and have lost twice in the interim, 12 months ago by a demoralising 12 points, as well as coming second in a league final in 2010.
Conversely they have new management and a number of new players – not as many as might be initially thought (11 of tomorrow’s starters played in last summer’s encounter) – an upbeat mood and no pressure to advance beyond the last four, a status that would have been accepted as an encouraging bench mark for Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s first year.
Yet just as Galway have been thoroughly discomfited in the past by expectation, Cork thrive as underdogs and have done so sufficiently often in this fixture for it to be an incentive.
Despite Cunningham’s aspiration, Galway have already been inconsistent this summer. Their defence leaked more goals against both Westmeath and Offaly (four and three respectively) than they did against Kilkenny (two). Does that mean that the backs answered all critics the last day? Not really.
Kilkenny were in shock for the crucial portion of the game. Wiped out at centrefield and riddled on the scoreboard they exerted virtually no pressure on their opponents’ rearguard and although David Collins and Johnny Coen in particular were exceptionally good in anticipating and clearing ball as a unit they will feel they coughed up two soft goals against opponents who were all but dead in the water at the time.