Galway will believe they can win this but the evidence doesn’t really back that up, writes NICKY ENGLISH
THIS EVENING in Tullamore is really a game to forward to, as it has all the ingredients of a great contest. Up until last week both counties would have seen this year as a great opportunity to win Leinster. I’m not sure that’s still as obviously the case as I was more impressed by Kilkenny last week than I expected to be, even allowing for Wexford’s shortcomings.
But it’s still a huge match for both counties. In John McIntyre’s third year Galway have yet to reach even the All-Ireland semi-finals and Dublin, having made definite progress under Anthony Daly, still need to step up this summer and certainly do better than last year.
Both teams had big wins over Kilkenny in the league, having been well beaten by them in last year’s championship and that improvement really needs to be maintained.
My thinking on Galway over the past couple of years has been the obvious: they’re too reliant for scores on Joe Canning and to a lesser extent, Damien Hayes. When Canning is held, like in last year’s Leinster final, they haven’t even looked like winning.
His return for this evening is similar to the Shefflin factor last week; we’re not sure what his form is like and haven’t really seen him apart from a couple of lively cameos against Waterford in the league and recently against Westmeath.
The difficulty Galway had two weeks ago in Mullingar isn’t a bad thing for them and they’ll be very grounded as a result. They’re hard to assess this year but for the most part have not been convincing. I would have been most concerned by the way they lost to Tipperary in the league.
The signals in April were that they were up for that game and had targeted it after losing so narrowly in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year but they were destroyed. They did beat Dublin just before that but it was a totally false result, given the respective performances.
Tony Regan is a big addition to the defence but I was surprised to see Shane Kavanagh, back from injury, named at wing back with David Collins at three and I’m assuming they’ll switch.
Dublin also had a reality check in their first match. Offaly were always seen as a banana skin and although it was sidestepped, frailties were exposed. Anthony Daly will be particularly pleased to have Tomás Brady recovered from injury, as Peter Kelly was very exposed – especially for Shane Dooley’s goal – and there are no other realistic options to mark Canning.
Kelly has played everywhere but would be most effective as a quick wing back or even wing forward. He’s not a first-choice central defender because he doesn’t have the experience to block up the channel and wouldn’t even be a candidate for centre back were it not for injuries to both Joey Boland and Stephen Hiney.
Brady’s return means there won’t be the same vulnerability down the middle this evening but it’s still a bit of a concern for Dublin.
That said Cyril Donnellan, even though a strong player, is more of a supplier than a scorer at centre forward. There are similarities between the Galway and Dublin half forwards. Donnellan and Joe Gantley are very similar to Ryan O’Dwyer and Conal Keaney: strong ball winners and very physical. Of the four, Keaney has the greatest scoring potential even if the prolific totals of the early league matches have come down.
Paul Ryan is one of the best free-takers I’ve seen so he was always likely to take over those duties once he got a settled place on the team but not taking the frees has perhaps undermined Keaney a bit.
Keaney is like Ken McGrath in that he seems to need to be dominant in a match and when he’s not doing everything he looks disappointed with himself even if his input is still considerable.
Peadar Carton is included in the full forward line and to have displaced Daire Plunkett he must be going well in training but otherwise you wouldn’t expect Ryan and Dotsy O’Callaghan to pose the same scoring threat as Canning and Hayes.
There are question marks over both teams but any inclination to go for Galway would be based not on this year’s form but their potential as well as doubts over Dublin’s ability to step up their league form to championship.
Dublin have to break out of this cycle of threatening to deliver but falling slightly short in the championship. They may not get a better chance to establish themselves in the second tier of counties (those chasing Tipp and Kilkenny), as there is a vulnerability about Galway at present.
Galway will absolutely believe they can win this but the evidence doesn’t really back that up. I believe Dublin can restrict Canning and Hayes and, after that, they have a better spread of scorers than Galway. They also create plenty of chances and I think they’ll take a higher percentage of them than usual and that will be the difference.
In Limerick tomorrow there’s nothing on the face of it to suggest an upset. Clare were beaten in the league by Laois, who a week before had lost to Down, who last weekend were beaten by Armagh.
They have promising, skilful players but in the Division Two final against Limerick they made big mistakes under pressure. I suppose you could say last week Limerick proved that once you get the lower-division sluggishness out of your system you can be competitive.
John Conlon, Darach Honan and Nicky O’Connell are good players by any standards and although Tipperary were very ready for Cork in the quarter-final, that had more to do with what happened last year. Mentally they won’t be as ready for Clare and that makes for some danger.
It’s hard for management, who only get the players three times a week to prepare amidst a prevailing public perception that this match is a done deal. Clare need to get much closer to their best form than Wexford managed last week but 12 months ago they weren’t a million miles off Waterford in Thurles. There hasn’t been a lot between the counties at Under-21 either and in 2009 Clare won an All-Ireland when Tipp had been favourites.
The ingredients of an upset are one team going in overconfident and the opponents start to get a grip. Momentum is important in any sport but it’s massive in hurling, as it’s very hard to turn. If there’s talent and capability on the other team – which there is tomorrow – they might find themselves doing things that even they didn’t expect to do.
That’s the danger for Tipperary, who are typically vulnerable when defending an All-Ireland and especially when the general assumption is that Clare are just in the way of getting to a Munster final.
But I’m probably being over-nervous from a Tipperary point of view. The defence is stronger with Conor O’Mahony back and even before his injury Paddy Stapleton might have had a problem keeping John O’Keeffe out of the team. And Tipp have the forwards to rack up a big enough score to win this.
Article Source: IrishTimes.com