Jackie Tyrrell: Limerick and Galway must drill down deep

The final is won on the pitch but off it there’s tactical plans to be finely-honed this week

Everything feels like it has happened quicker this year. More games in a shorter space of time. The likes of Tipperary and Waterford gone by the middle of June. Two All-Ireland semi-finals happening in the space of 24 hours. And now the final is only nine days away. It feels like it’s upon us without due warning.

The lead-in time to final is very short, particularly for Galway. They have 14 days, whereas Limerick have 21. While Galway were going toe-to-toe with Clare, you can be sure Limerick will have recovered and have been away on a training weekend going to war with each other to get a starting jersey for Sunday week.

I always loved and embraced the run-in to the All-Ireland final because you get giddy with excitement. The nerves and anticipation are like fuel for the engine in this period – you’re counting down the training sessions, the days of work remaining, the hours and minutes, the formalities that had to be got out of the way.

A fortnight is a very tight window for any team to prepare for an All-Ireland final, defending champions or not

I became an expert in going through the motions in every facet off my life, except training and preparing myself to be a dog of war from the first whistle. I had a split personality – nice as pie during the day, dodging conversations where I could. Then coming alive at 7 o’clock in Nowlan Park for 90 minutes. All building towards getting close to Croke Park, getting at my opponent, going to dark places to earn that taste and feeling of All-Ireland final day.


Limerick have an advantage here, no doubt about it. It’s not a massive one but it is definitely an advantage.

A fortnight is a very tight window for any team to prepare for an All-Ireland final, defending champions or not. By contrast, Limerick have had time to get rid of any niggles, get everyone in good shape for their A v B games, get tickets and suits and press duties out of the way. John Kiely and Shane Dowling set the tone within minutes of the final whistle – no hype, no madness, all squared away.

On top of that, Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and the team statisticians would all have been in Thurles on Sunday, picking apart every line of the Galway team with a bird's eye view. So they will be slightly ahead of the curve in that respect – although I think that's less important this year than in others.

I always felt it was an advantage to play in the first semi-final but that was when teams only had to play three or four matches to make a final. This is Galway’s ninth game of the summer, it’s going to be Limerick’s eighth. There’s a huge body of evidence there from this summer for both teams to analyse. I’m not sure Limerick would have learned an awful lot last Sunday that wasn’t already evident in Galway’s play from the rest of the summer.

That said, an All-Ireland final demands that you drill down deeper than you've ever gone before. James Skehill and Nickie Quaid's puck-outs are going to be put under the microscope – heat-maps, preferred options, go-to-guys, state of the game when they go long and when they go short.

Tactical work

Everything gets broken down. How to create space in congested defensive units, the tactical battle, match-ups, how to create space for their forwards lines. The stats app Hudl will be busy on players’ phones this week. Who will I be on? Which side does he favour? Who does he look for? What does he not like?

This is a different final to last year. Galway and Limerick player similar styles. They both drop their wing-forwards back into the middle third to win the breaking ball, they both use cross-field balls from their wing-backs to launch attacks. They both have go-to target men to feed with high ball and puck-outs – Gearóid Hegarty and Kyle Hayes on one side and Johnny Glynn and the Cooneys on the other. Johnny Coen will act as Galway's screen, the Limerick midfielders will alternate in that job as the game goes on.

The tactical work that goes on ahead of a final will often bypass the middle third of the pitch to a fair extent. With the best will in the world, there is only so much you can plan for when you’re talking about the trenches between the 45s.

Hurling is so instinctive, especially when the space is squeezed with athletic bodies hunting with bad intent. Mostly, the main tactic in and around the middle third is to get on ball and work it as best you can. You’re not going to have time for anything more subtle.

It’s a different story when you talk about the two inside lines. The level of homework players can do running up to the final is massive, especially when it comes to defenders getting an idea of how to play against specific attackers.

If you take Graeme Mulcahy and Aaron Gillane for example, the Galway corner-backs can use these days to build a picture for themselves of what they're going to face.

Having played on Graeme before, I know first-hand what he is about. He has pace, he is a wristy hurler and he’s very accurate. Against that, everything is done on his left side. When I marked him, any time he received the ball I took a step to my right. As I got older and slower, I took two steps to my right and waited for him to turn into me and onto his left. Increasingly, he was too quick for me and I couldn’t get close enough to block him.

So if you’re Adrian Tuohy – presuming that’s who Galway detail to mark him – you’re going back through Mulcahy’s scores in this year’s championship. Four points against Cork – all off his left. Four points in the first half against Tipperary away back at the start of the Munster championship – all off his left. Two of them where he shaped to shoot off his right before jinking back onto his go-to side. I don’t remember him shooting off his right all year.

Blind spot

That has to be Job Number One for Tuohy or whoever is marking Mulcahy on Sunday week. Make him shoot off his right. He obviously doesn’t want to do it – so make him do it in an All-Ireland final. Test him when the pressure is highest.

With Gillane, you’re looking at a lad who could potentially be in the Hurler of the Year running – if he held onto his hurl more in vital game me scenarios, he’d probably be out in front.

He loves to float in behind the defence and come from the defenders’ blind spot, using the defenders’ body to lean on and catch the ball while holding down his marker. His body position is side-on so the defender won’t catch him when he catches the ball – he is always rotating his body in mid-air towards the goal and pushing the defender away.

This is very smart stuff for a rookie and Limerick take full advantage of his cleverness. They distribute the ball into Gillane at a good trajectory which means the defender hasn’t time to turn around and see where he is. As a defender in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, the last thing you need is to be trying to keep an eye on two things at once, especially when one of them is arrowing towards you at speed and the other is ducking and diving around your blind spot.

So Galway need to be equally smart about it. First of all, they need to be alive to the tactic because this is how Gillane has kept sneaking in for goal chances over the past few games. He’s been careless in taking them up to now but that won’t last forever. Galway can’t trust that he’s going to keep missing.

What I would do is keep Gillane in front of me at all times. When he makes a run out into space, sometimes he likes to check back and let the defender run out past him, meaning he then has the defender where he wants him in front of him. John Hanbury will probably be on him so he needs to know in advance that this is one of Gillane's tricks. Don't fall for it.

Defenders need to learn the art of spoiling and grappling. It's a tool you absolutely need from time to time

Hanbury will need to get his dancing shoes on and practice his footwork in the ladders this week. Top of his list must be adjusting his feet quickly to stop and get back in behind Gillane and take away that low-trajectory option. Hanbury is excellent at breaking the ball down from the attacker when the attacker is in front of him, where he can get his hands on him. If he gets used to running hard, breaking and readjusting his feet and body behind Gillane, his life will be a lot easier under those high balls.

On the other side, Limerick have to be working on a plan for what to do with Johnny Glynn. Glynn has been immense, a real leader in the early exchanges when they’re building up those big leads and later on when they’re having to hold on in games. His aerial ability is phenomenal and as long as Galway are able to send him the right kind of ball, he is a huge danger.

Spoiling and grappling

Watching him in his games so far this year, I think defenders have been overly naive against him. Go back and watch his goal against Clare last week – David McInerney tries to out-catch him. McInerney is one of the best full-backs in the business but he had to know that wasn’t the way to go. You might catch one in front of Glynn but if that’s your policy for the day, he’s going to get his paw up ahead of you eventually. And he generally makes it count.

Defenders need to learn the art of spoiling and grappling. It's a tool you absolutely need from time to time. I needed it with Brian Begley and Séamus Prendergast, two man-mountains who I knew I wouldn't beat in the air. So I played to my strengths, and strived to take the catch away from them. I learned it from Noel Hickey.

It’s all about disruption, knock the forward’s hands away from the ball, using any part of your body to unsettle their strong base, making it as hard as possible to see the ball, let alone catch it. The timing of your physical encounter with the forward is crucial – too early and it gives them time to readjust their body, too late and it’s a goal.

Limerick will have decided by now who is going on Glynn. I'd go with Richie English but they'll probably stick with Mike Casey. Either way, Glynn is going to have a height advantage and a physical edge. No matter.

Whoever it is, Casey or English, need to be obsessed with Glynn from now until throw-in. All they have to do is get through the game without him causing panic. They don’t have to make a catch or send a clearance 100 yards – just make sure Glynn is spoiled and bumped and shackled.

Nine days to go and these are the thoughts that are swimming through the heads of everybody who’ll be playing. I still wish I was one of them.