Cyril Farrell: Galway must set hayes and canning free to tip scales
RACE week approaching, good weather forecast and the hurlers about to qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final -- what more could Galway people ask for? We'll definitely have the races in Ballybrit next week and, as for the weather, well it can be a bit unpredictable although, in fairness, not any more than Galway hurlers.
They have been that way for a long time now, although, in terms of championship performances, it has been more low than high over the last five years.
The Leinster final was a definite low. It was no surprise that they lost to Kilkenny -- so has everyone else since 2006 -- but the manner of their defeat was alarming. Kilkenny took the wind advantage and the early initiative and held on solidly, apart from a brief Galway surge in the second quarter. Bottom line: Galway failed to put in a sustained challenge.
That was in marked contrast to what Tipperary did in last year's All-Ireland final where, despite having missed some glorious goal chances, they out-scored Kilkenny for 63 minutes before being reeled in on the home stretch. It suggested that Tipperary were a serious work in progress, coming very close to being the polished article.
More than 10 months on, there are as many doubts about them as about Galway. The defeat by Cork in the Munster quarter-final shook the foundations and since then it has been a question of trying to repair the damage. A win tomorrow would suggest that has been achieved, but a defeat might make it necessary to start digging deep again.
There's quite a similarity between Galway and Tipperary at present. They both have squads with hugely talented individuals, but are finding it frustratingly difficult to slot the jigsaw pieces together.
Both have problems in the half-forward line, which is quite a draw back, especially since the quality is so high in most half-back lines nowadays. Galway have reinstated Cyril Donnellan to No 11, which is a good move, certainly by comparison with wasting Joe Canning's talents so far out from goal, as was the case for a long time in the Leinster final.
Donnellan is a good grafter, which is vital in a centre-forward. Andy Smith, too, is a hard worker at No 12, but he's got to be doing it in his own half of the field rather than drifting way back and then knocking balls down to where he himself should be -- as happened at times against Kilkenny.
Tipperary have a complete new half-forward line from last year's All-Ireland final with the most interesting move featuring Shane McGrath, who was their anchor midfielder for the last few years, at No 12. I'd regard him as a better midfielder -- or wing-back for that matter -- but obviously Liam Sheedy reckons his work ethic can add something to the attack. And of course he's also adept at taking points on the run.
Both Galway and Tipperary have very potent full-forward lines, so much will depend on the quality of ball they get. Noel McGrath, Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett, who has a good record against Galway, are a mixture of pace, experience and flair. But then the same applies to Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and Iarla Tannian, although in the case of the latter, he might do better further out.
Canning (first half) and Hayes (second half) both found themselves way out the field against Kilkenny which must have delighted Brian Cody. They are proven goal scorers, but you don't score goals from 40 metres and further, so if Galway are to win tomorrow they must play lock Hayes and Canning into the full-forward line and make sure the right ball is played in their direction.
Also, I can't understand why Canning isn't used more on frees. Galway have two brilliant free-takers in Canning and Ger Farragher so why not use both? I'd have Farragher on the longer ones and Canning on the rest. That way, both of them are kept ticking over.
There's no doubt that both Galway and Tipperary are a bit brittle at present. Tipp thought they would be in the All-Ireland semi-finals by now and while Galway were always likely to be in the quarter-finals, the expectations were that it would be after reasonably comfortable wins over Wexford, Offaly and a battling performance against Kilkenny. Only the first leg of that treble came up.
Still, unlike the bad old days when one defeat meant a championship exit, it's second chance time for Galway and Tipperary, so whoever makes it count tomorrow can rescue their season. As for the losers, the year will be a big disappointment and that applies as much to Galway as Tipperary, even if the National League trophy is west of the Shannon. League titles aren't enough in a county waiting 22 years for an All-Ireland.
Galway-Tipperary games tend to take on a life of their own and are generally high-scoring, open affairs. Tomorrow's is likely to follow that pattern too.
I fancy Galway to win, subject to one condition. They will need to score at least two goals in the first half to get them into a confident rhythm which would then release their creativity streams. It's up to the outside lines to get good ball, as supposed to God-direct-it stuff, into Canning and Hayes. If they do, Galway can nudge into the All-Ireland semi-final.