Nicky English’s Verdict: Where the game will be won and lost
THE JOE SHOW:One of the biggest issues for Kilkenny is how they get to grips with the Galway attack and Joe Canning in particular. Kilkenny’s defence were caught in the Leinster final by not man-marking.
In July the chaos created by Galway initially had their opponents at sixes and sevens and then three weeks’ ago they managed to upset Kilkenny’s man-to-man marking by pulling the individual defenders out of position all over the place.
Both days Canning was central to this. Jackie Tyrrell couldn’t live with him the first day and he did too much damage on JJ Delaney in the All-Ireland – even the respite in the second half was more down to Galway pulling back.
Although Kilkenny were in trouble in the first half, Galway didn’t get the same scoring returns out of Cyril Donnellan, David Burke and Damien Hayes.
It’s a huge burden on Canning to have to carry the attack to the extent he’s been doing but I don’t think Galway will be able to unleash the “chaos” of the Leinster final, particularly if the poor weather forecast holds.
So if Tyrrell or JJ can hold the Galway star, they will be a long way down the road.
BACK STORY:ONE OF the big stories to emerge from these matches is the extent to which the Galway backs have it over the Kilkenny forwards at this stage. Back in July Henry Shefflin fought the rearguard action and was required to perform miracles in the second half of the All-Ireland. The only serious support he got was from TJ Reid, who upped it on the Leinster final.
I’m not surprised Brian Cody has dissociated himself from the assumption that Kilkenny forwards won’t be as bad again and made significant changes. Richie Hogan is likely to revert to his best position and supplement the attack. Eoin Larkin and Richie Power are well off their own standards and it’s surprising that Aidan Fogarty pays the price after one quiet match.
The Galway defence has been outstanding in its physicality. It’s a big test for debutant Walter Walsh whose strength and ball winning is a significant attempt to redress that physical balance. That said, Galway have to look at the key vulnerability, which was when Shefflin took Tony Óg Regan out of the centre and for the first time Galway looked unsettled on a sustained basis.
ANXIETY CENTRAL:IF SOMEONE had said before the Leinster final that Galway would play Kilkenny twice and dominate midfield both days, they’d have been laughed at. Under-strength in the Leinster final, it was assumed the last day that the returning Michael Fennelly would get to grips with the problem, after recovering from injury.
But the All-Ireland was “the same again”. This was partly down to Michael Rice’s injury, which left Kilkenny still under-strength in the area, but also because Galway have played so well here. Andy Smith has been strong and dynamic and Iarla Tannian has been in the shape and form of his career.
I was surprised that Fennelly kept coming up his usual left-hand side instead of switching to the right on Tannian.
Galway’s big success here has been getting the ball to ground and hitting it away early. Tipp tried to take on Kilkenny at fielding but they’re unbeatable at that and even if you out-field them they’re closing you down immediately.
I think Kilkenny have to be more prepared for breaking ball around the middle and with Cillian Buckley’s welcome introduction and likely switch from wing forward, Tannian can expect to see more of Fennelly.
MIND GAMES:It was noticeable at the end to see Galway warm down in a business-like way. They had got the draw and were more likely to be happier because they’d come closer to losing.
I felt Kilkenny looked shell-shocked and more disappointed. Brian Cody was more animated than we’d ever seen him. It wasn’t just because the late free was questionable. He also knew they had struggled in too many places and had they won, it would have been one of their finest hours.
It was interesting to hear Joe Canning say JJ Delaney wasn’t happy with Shefflin taking the point from the penalty – a decision I thought was absolutely correct but then I wasn’t facing into another three weeks’ training in Nowlan Park in the fading light.
I couldn’t help noticing this week how it gets dark so early and I strongly believe extra time in hurling finals should get serious consideration.
Kilkenny have a lot of medals, they’re a bit older and are at a stage where it’s harder juggling commitments.
So for them it’s harder to postpone again that bit of catching up you were going to do at work and re-acquainting yourself with the family.
The preparation for this will be one of Cody’s biggest challenges.