Nicky English: I’m not convinced by Galway
Kilkenny exposed frailties in form of champions and can now capitalise in the replay
Galway’s Jonathan Glynn claims a high ball last Sunday. The All-Ireland champions were found wanting in a number of areas in the drawn match. Photograph: Inpho/Tommy Dickson
I went to Croke Park last Sunday, ready to confirm that Galway had allayed the suspicions I had about them by the time the league had ended. Wins over Wexford and Kilkenny suggested their form had picked up where it had left off in last year’s championship.
The reality proved different. Their levels of hunger and energy raised the exact same question marks that were obvious when they played Limerick and, later, Wexford in the league.
On the one hand, they never looked likely to lose, but on the other, having assembled a three-point lead near the end, they missed the chance to go four ahead when Joe Canning missed a free. The net effect was to leave me once again unsure of where they stand.
Aerially they competed with Galway and actually outdid them in many cases and it wasn’t until Johnny Glynn’s arrival that that began to turn around
Psychologically, it was always going to be a much tougher Leinster final for Galway than last year when they faced Wexford. But the facts of the matter are that Kilkenny aren’t as good a hurling team as Galway. They neither have their strength nor depth as a panel even if it was always known they would fight on until the very end – despite their shortcomings.
Yes, they’re reliant on TJ Reid – but he delivered for them. Aerially they competed with Galway and actually outdid them in many cases and it wasn’t until Johnny Glynn’s arrival that that began to turn around.
As a spectacle, the draw wasn’t in the same category as the Munster final but I thought it was genuinely more interesting to see if Galway were actually ahead of the pack – but they failed to match those expectations.
Many are describing it as a wake-up call that will have them fully alert this weekend but from what I saw they’ll take a bit of waking up. I would be worried for them because there are definite signs of “All-Ireland winners syndrome” – the inability to sustain intensity of effort over a whole game. I well remember that from 2002 when I was in charge of Tipp and it reminded me of that.
In mitigation there are two things: one, their supporters were extremely confident and it can be hard to prevent that spilling into complacency, and, two, Micheál Donoghue said afterwards that they needed a game. Since beating Kilkenny in Salthill, they’ve had a big win over Wexford and a dead rubber against Dublin, whereas Kilkenny were battling furiously to beat Wexford in their last game.
Either way I’m not convinced by what Galway have shown. Dáithí Burke and Niall Burke gave excellent displays and Pádraic Mannion was good but the rest of the team were well below-par, even if there were occasional flashes. They took off three forwards with All Stars – Conor Cooney, Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion – and are currently lacking last year’s coherence.
Kilkenny on the other hand look to be improving. They work hard, win ball and Pádraig Walsh was superb under dropping ball while James Maher is settling in really well at midfield and doing his best hurling for three years (with UCD) before injuries wiped out his last two summers.
Regardless of whether this chopping and changing is deliberate, it gives Kilkenny impact off the bench as a lot of players are getting game-time
They have around 10 certain starters and the rest come and go, largely up front, depending on their form. Billy Ryan made a first start last week and was lively but Liam Blanchfield was back with the subs despite his effective cameo against Wexford.
Regardless of whether this chopping and changing is deliberate, it gives Kilkenny impact off the bench as a lot of players are getting game-time.
Galway obviously have greater potency but that has to be activated and there’s no point in everyone waiting for it to happen. I think they will win and register improvement but is it likely to be All-Ireland winning improvement? Again, I’m not convinced.
A replay is the worst outcome for both teams as the losers will be facing a third successive weekend in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Their likely opponents will be Limerick, but neither they nor Wexford are going to find it easy in Carlow and Mullingar.
These matches will be ideal opportunities for both the favourites to exorcise the ghosts of their provincial campaigns and they will bring renewed momentum into the last six.
Carlow and Westmeath got to a good level in the McDonagh Cup final, Carlow especially, but the step-up to play teams that weren’t, as in the past, dumped out of their championships after a match or two but who had a programme of competitive matches in the round-robin format looks too steep.
Limerick and Wexford will understand that this is a new competition and it doesn’t particularly matter how they got to this point – the important thing is that they’re in it and in what’s looking like the most open championship in five years, their hopes will be high for the weeks ahead.