Friday 18 August 2017

Stable Tribesmen built on a rock-solid foundation

The moving of Daithí Burke, pictured in action against Limerick in the league semi-final, has been one of the most significant changes to the Galway team under Micheal Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
The moving of Daithí Burke, pictured in action against Limerick in the league semi-final, has been one of the most significant changes to the Galway team under Micheal Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In four years as Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham gave Championship debuts to 18 players.

The pace of change never seemed that apparent but it was breakneck all the same. He built and then rebuilt teams to contest two All-Ireland finals, losing both, before the Galway players lobbied and succeeded in getting a different hierarchy in place.

Last year, his first in charge, Micheal Donoghue took a different approach, giving debuts to just two players, Adrian Tuohy and Kevin Hussey, who made a brief appearance against Westmeath.

In the weeks and months ahead perhaps Tommy Monaghan and Sean Loftus, among the players to see game-time off the bench in the league final rout of All-Ireland champions Tipperary, can probably expect to step up.

But there's a sense of stability about Galway, now that the building blocks are all in place, a real thread of consistency through all their team selections.

From last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tipp, 13 starters that day started again in the league final - Paul Killeen replacing John Hanbury at corner-back and Niall Burke coming in for Conor Cooney, the only enforced change after Cooney picked up an injury. More of the same is guaranteed against Dublin in their Leinster Championship opener on Sunday.

Pedigree

It's a tribute to Cunningham that Donoghue had had to make such little personnel change.

Whoever merited being there was there already. Change has been subtle and great flexibility has been prevalent over the last season-and-a-half, however. Padraig Mannion has moved from the full-back line to the half-back line; Johnny Coen has shifted from corner-back to midfield; Tuohy, who has some pedigree as a midfielder and forward with club and county (underage), has dropped seamlessly into corner-back.

In attack, Joe Canning appears to be enjoying his freedom in the half-forward line, Cathal Mannion too benefiting from his release to the same space.

But arguably the most significant changes are to the central spine of defence where Daithí Burke has been remodelled over the last two seasons as a full-back and Gearóid McInerney has switched to centre-back from a previous detail on the wing. Burke's performances earned him an All Star award last year (as left corner-back), having picked up one at wing-back a year earlier.

McInerney's towering performance was a feature of the win over Tipperary in the league final and inevitably the sense of a 'settled' and strong defensive spine has been created.

It's an area where Galway have been settled before but perhaps not as strong. John McIntyre favoured a Shane Kavanagh/John Lee or Tony Óg Regan axis in his three years in charge. Cunningham shifted from Kevin Hynes to Ronan Burke at full-back with Tony Óg Regan, Daithí Burke and Iarla Tannian enjoying blocks in the No 6 shirt. None, however, settled in a season, enjoyed any great longevity.

Daithí Burke dove-tailed between both positions last year but now looks like he is locked down at No 3.

Former Galway full-back Conor Hayes doesn't believe too much importance should be placed on specific positions in the modern game.

"I'm not absolutely sure that you nail down a guy as a full-back and you are not able to play anywhere else," he said.

"It's more fluid now that it has been. If I was moved out to a half-back line it would be 'you're crazy, what are you at.' And it was like that, that you did police an area."

Still, Burke has provided a great sense of security to Galway's defence and Hayes appreciates his unwillingness to rush in. "He doesn't over-commit. You can't be doing that in the full-back line in any shape or form. He commands the area well," he said.

"You're instinct in football is not to go in on top of your man, it's to stand back and make him make the first move. Daithí brings that type of play to his hurling.

"He's probably better further out the field. He is a good hurler generally."

Hayes believes switching Burke to full-back is one of Donoghue's best moves. "He's not overawed by going one-to-one with an opponent," he said.

"It doesn't bother him to be facing up to the likes of Callanan. They certainly had a strong spine the last day. Tipperary did play into their hands, they put a lot of high ball down in on top of McInerney. That's meat and drink to him.

"But having said that, they were very good the last day. They didn't have that shape that you would like to see in a defence in the past. Good individuals but the shape didn't always come together.

"That would be the one thing I'd be saying about Galway. They have the forwards at the moment to win an All-Ireland, to win any game," he said.

Hayes sees killer instinct now that hasn't always been there, citing Cathal Mannion opting to go for goal in the second half against Tipperary as evidence. Conor Whelan too, he feels possesses "a poacher's touch".

"He just has this eye. I'm going to try and get a goal if I can.' He has a sidestep you'd kill for," he said.

Hayes doesn't see Galway fearing any opponent in the months ahead and describes as "rubbish" the theory sometimes peddled in Galway that Kilkenny can't be beaten twice by the same team in the same season.

"There isn't anything major there for them to be afraid of. You don't have that really powerful team that you would be shivering in your boots from."

Irish Independent

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