Sunday 11 December 2016

Martin Breheny: Galway set to be last men standing in the pursuit of All-Ireland double

Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30

Joe Canning and Gary Sice in action
Joe Canning and Gary Sice in action

It's all about the dream and while neither Galway nor Tipperary are likely to win the All-Ireland football/hurling double, they are still the only counties taking the big ambition into the last day of July.

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By 5.30 tomorrow evening, Galway will probably be the sole outfit on the double trail, with Tipperary hurlers priming themselves to kill that lofty notion in two weeks' time.

Galway's poor record in Croke Park (no wins in 10 games) since beating Meath in the 2001 All-Ireland final is usually treated with puzzlement as if were a case of a county with a proven record on Jones' Road falling victim to some nasty strain of hoodoo.

That's not the case. The failures over the last 14 years were, in the majority of cases, very much on their merits and while Galway may have been a touch unlucky on a few occasions, they could have no real complaints.

Now, they return to Croke Park as Connacht champions for the first time since 2008, an occasion when they lost to Kerry in an early-August downpour.

It's a hugely important game for Kevin Walsh's men. Their delight at winning the Connacht title was understandable but much of the gloss will be chipped away if they lose tomorrow.

That's in no way meant to be disparaging to Tipperary, who are building something very substantial, but Galway's need is much greater.

Tipperary have already turned this into a landmark season by beating Cork for the first time in 72 years and qualifying for the All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time.

They are a work-in-progress, built on a solid foundation. Liam Kearns' appointment as manager was an excellent decision as he is vastly experienced, including having specialised knowledge of how to mould underdogs into tough fighting competitors from his days with Limerick U-21s and seniors.

He found Laois a more frustrating project but then he wasn't the first to experience that.

Kearns was disappointed to discover on his arrival that so many players were unavailable and he lost some other pre-championship but Tipp have strength in depth nowadays, enabling them to improvise in a manner that would not have been possible in the past.

Their attack has been especially productive, scoring 12 goals in the league (Division 3), a yield surpassed by Derry (12) only in the divisional games across all four divisions.

GAA-Galway-v-Tipp.jpg  

They scored an average of 2-16 against Cork, Kerry and Derry, impressive shooting against Division 1 and Division 2 teams. It's a tribute to Tipp's gung-ho approach to the game which is certainly guaranteed to entertain.

However, the high-yield game comes at a cost, having conceded an average of 2-18 in the last three championship games.

And they need no reminding that Galway hit them for 4-17 when the sides last met in the 2014 qualifiers.

Stability

Tipp scored 4-12 that day but Galway are more defensively sound nowadays.

They conceded the low average of 13 points against Mayo and Roscommon (twice), which was a big change from the 'open house' scenario that plagued them for so long.

Kevin Walsh has worked very hard on improving defensive stability and while the system hasn't been to everyone's liking in a county where attacking flair is embedded in their DNA, the manager can argue that the means justify the end.

Based on their productivity in their last three games, Tipp certainly have the firepower to stretch the Galway defence into conceding more than they did in the Connacht Championship but, on the reverse side, the Tipp defence could find it very tough in Croke Park's expansive terrain.

Galway hit Roscommon for 3-16 in the Connacht final replay on a day when they opened the creativity taps more than they had in the drawn game or against Mayo a few weeks earlier.

Galway's overwhelming favouritism is not justified but there's still a strong case for tipping them to win and book a semi-final place against Tyrone or one of today's qualifier winners.

Irish Independent

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