Cyril Farrell: If Galway are bold and brave, their big day will come
Published 05/09/2015 | 02:30
Whether he believed it or not, Anthony Cunningham has been proven right.
His 'see you for the All-Ireland final' comment to Brian Cody after the Leinster final looked a tad optimistic following Kilkenny's seven-point win over Galway but, nine weeks later, it's all set for the re-match.
A lot has happened - certainly for Galway - since early July but many people are convinced that however well they did against Cork and Tipperary, the gap with Kilkenny is still far too wide to be bridged tomorrow.
And so it will remain unless Galway hurl a lot better than they did in the Leinster final. Forget about systems, patterns, match-ups, and the rest too - Galway's biggest problem that day was a failure to get the basics right.
Top of the error list was their poor first touch. Most of them can make the sliotar sing, but there were times that day when they couldn't get a single note out of it. That can happen on occasions but skilful players recover and get it right next time.
It's hard enough to beat Kilkenny when a team comes as close as possible to precision. But if you're sloppy with your touch, you have no chance.
Oddly enough, what happened in the Leinster final is one of the reasons I expect Galway to win tomorrow. Despite being pretty ordinary for much of that game, they were still only three points behind just past the hour mark.
Kilkenny kicked on again to win by seven. Given Galway's overall performance, it was a fair reflection of the difference between the teams.
So why should it be any different tomorrow? Galway's touch was infinitely better against Cork and better still against Tipperary so they will be confident of getting it right again.
If they do, and if they also take on Kilkenny with real physical and mental ferocity, they can win. You won't beat Kilkenny by setting up to contain them. You've got to be bold and aggressive, taking the game to them relentlessly from every angle.
They have repeatedly shown how brilliant they are but they are still only hurlers in black-and-amber jerseys. Of course, Galway have to be very wary of TJ Reid, Richie Hogan etc, but Brian Cody knows what Joe Canning and the rest of the Galway forwards can do if the team's overall game is going well.
Waterford set up to contain Kilkenny in the semi-final and while it worked for three quarters of the way, they never looked as if they were going to win. Kilkenny have the experience and know-how to cope with that type of game every time, slugging it out for as long as required before surging on.
That's why opposition have to be bold if they are to give themselves a decent chance of winning. Of course they have to worry about marking arrangements, match-ups etc, but not to the point where it becomes so rigid that spontaneity is sucked from your game.
If you allow that to happen, you'll be like a dog chasing his tail. And that's certainly not conducive to producing hurling that will win an All-Ireland final.
Kilkenny are very good at keeping their shape, pulling their lines, rather than individuals, back into the defensive channels. I'd expect Galway to do the same to close down some of the space that left them so vulnerable to Seamus Callanan's wizardry in the semi-final.
If Galway concede three goals and score none - as happened against Tipperary - they won't win, but who's to say that their forwards won't stretch the Kilkenny defence in a way they haven't experienced this season?
Kilkenny have a mental advantage over opposition because of the incredible success level since 2000. Even new Kilkenny players look and act as if they are world-beaters, which they will be if the opposition buy into the idea that they are superior in some way.
Cody's presence on the sideline adds to the aura too. Kilkenny people have total faith in him - which is as it should be - while the opposition tend to think that whatever problem they present him with, it will be solved.
Now, nobody has more respect for Cody than me, but you wouldn't want to overstate the value of management once the game starts. Cody himself has often said that, and I spent long enough on the sideline myself to know exactly what he means.
Yet there's a perception that because Kilkenny have Cody on patrol, it gives them a clear edge over every one else. He's a very shrewd operator but, ultimately, it's all about what happens inside the white lines where the players are in control.
Galway need to believe that. They have to believe too that they are just as good as Kilkenny and that their day has come. They are starting as long outsiders, but then everyone starts there against Kilkenny.
Still, the fact is that Galway have won one, drawn two and lost three of their last six championship games against Kilkenny over four seasons. It's a better record than anyone else in that period.
Also, I would argue that the Galway team that lines out tomorrow is better than the ones that beat and drew with Kilkenny in 2012, and tied with them last year.
Tipping against Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final leaves you wrong far more often than right, but I believe this is one occasion when it won't.
There was something about Galway against Tipperary that suggested their time had come.
Tomorrow could be the day.