Galway’s systematic approach paying dividends
Tribesmen’s new tactical set-up under has seen them greatly improve this year
Galways supporting cast has made star man Joe Canning even more of a threat. Photograph: Inpho
Galway’s tactical evolution in Anthony Cunningham’s fourth year as manager seems down to their marquee forward before the arrival of Joe Canning.
Eugene Cloonan was the county’s record scorer in championship with 14-116, compiled over 22 games from 1997 to 2008, until Canning took less than four summers to surpass the total in 2011.
After a rare show of inaccuracy as Cork were thrashed in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Canning clocked out of Thurles with 23-238 from 34 outings.
“There is more of a system in place alright,” says Anthony Daly. “They used to be better to watch but the system in place now makes them more effective. I think Eugene Cloonan’s role has become more enhanced. Anthony allowed that. Managers have to be willing to change and experiment.
It’s easier to analyse Galway’s trajectory heading into Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final as they have played five championship matches to Tipperary’s two.
Galway, in contrast, drew with Dublin before exposing Ger Cunningham’s experimental line-up in the Tullamore replay on June 6th.
Unable to cope
A fortnight later they went into the midlands again where Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s Laois were unable to cope with them. It ended 3-28 to 1-14.
“This year Galway are certainly a much-improved team,” says Plunkett.
“There are a couple of aspects to that. They have a much better system in place; they are using their wing forwards to screen the defence and to win possession.
“There are other obvious changes to the team; the input of Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn to their forwards, both very quick, tall players who are able to win their own ball.
“But their game management on the day is also better. We were set up to win the long ball coming in from them so we could work the ball out the field and dictate how the game would be played. They adapted to that.
“That’s different from Galway in other years. They started carrying ball from out the field rather than dropping it into our strong areas.”
Plunkett mentions the “Joe Canning factor” in the same complimentary breath as Kilkenny duo TJ Reid and Richie Hogan but the difference between Canning’s career path – he’s 26 – and those of Hogan and Reid – both 27 – is the supporting cast. Until now.
“Because of the forwards around Joe it changes the way he can move,” says Plunkett. “Galway’s awareness against us was something that reminds you of the Tipp and Kilkenny teams. When they identified a critical time in the match, when they have the upper hand, they actually go for it.”
The outstanding concern about Galway is whether they can sustain the best parts of their game under relentless scrutiny. Tipperary have shown the ability to stay with Kilkenny, when drawing last year’s All-Ireland final, but this was a questionable area of Galway’s play in the Leinster final when they shot 15 points to Kilkenny’s 25 (it finished 1-25 to 2-15).
“Galway dipped after their second goal while Kilkenny drove on,” says Daly. “Tipperary look like a team on a mission,” says Plunkett.
“They also have very quick backs who can deal with Galway’s big forwards. They probably have a lot of antidotes to what Galway have . . . I liked the way they dealt with Waterford in the Munster final and how they eke scores out of little possession and little working of the ball. The importance of Lar Corbett cannot be underestimated in all that, when he comes on.”
Eamon O’Shea appears to have a full strength panel with Pádraic Maher passed fit after shoulder damage while Noel McGrath could make a dramatic return after being treated for testicular cancer earlier this year.
“Galway really seem to be playing for the set-up this year,” says Daly. “Some years you would wonder.
“If Glynn hits the form again, well, he’s a real one. A fair handful, Tipp might be able to put Brendan Maher back on him if Noel McGrath returns. But Glynn is some unit and Donnellan is bringing them a massive amount as well.
“If Joe’s radar was in they would have beaten Cork by 18 or 19 points. And Joe’s radar is normally in.”
THIS WEEK’S FIXTURES
All-Ireland SHC semi-final – Tipperary v Galway, Croke Park, 4.0.
All-Ireland MHC semi-final – Tipperary v Dublin, Croke Park, 2.0.
All-Ireland MHC semi-final replay – Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, 12.0