Saturday 26 May 2018

Joe Brolly: Galway will only succeed if they ditch defensive system

Tyrone proved last year that blanket set-up is not the answer to beating Dublin in the summer

Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

We were only a few miles from MacHale Park last Sunday morning, but life is too short for optional Tyrone watching. Instead, we drove to Salthill to see the Dubs. I have been in Norway in the winter and Salthill was colder. A freezing gale drove up the pitch, the tricolour clinging to its pole for dear life.

Galway had the wind in the first half and instead of taking advantage of it, they immediately went into their ingrained 1-13-1 formation. "We should have gone to watch Tyrone," said the glamorous brunette.

As a result of Galway's game plan, Dublin, with less than half a team - minus Stephen Cluxton, Brian Fenton, four of their championship forwards and so on - were off the hook, and the pattern of the game was established. Dublin's sub goalkeeper kicked out short to an unmarked Dublin defender. They worked the ball upfield without a hand being laid on them, then held possession and probed the Galway wall, the first line of which resembled a defensive line in rugby.

As they probed, the Galway players held their spots, merely shuffling a few metres to either side depending on the direction of the ball or the runner. The wind was so stiff that you could only shoot from close in, and with so many Galway men back it quickly settled into a stalemate. The result was that Galway wasted their valuable time, with the Dubs holding possession for long stretches of the first half. I timed them at one point as holding the ball for four minutes and 11 seconds, as the Galway support roared at their lads to push out.

The pity was that when Galway did win possession and go forward, they looked good. As it was, because they were all breaking forward with no one ahead of the ball, save an isolated, double-marked full-forward who was therefore not an option, they were reduced to carrying the ball upfield, then taking 50 and 60-metre potshots. Several of these went over on Sunday because of the wind. A small child could have thrown the ball up in the air in the right spot and it would have blown over the bar.

At half-time we had tea with the swanks and I got talking to a group of Corofin people still wearing the colours from the day before. "Is it any wonder our lads don't like playing for the county?" said one.

On top of all of their other great attributes, this Dublin group play harder than anyone else. Galway had successfully bullied Mayo when they played them a few weeks earlier. The abiding symbol of that game was Paul Conroy dragging Aidan O'Shea out of a ruck by the neck, then trailing him contemptuously along the ground like a dead calf. Big Aidan should have got up and busted him but as is his wont, opted to respond like Gandhi, not Genghis. .

From the throw-in last week, Conroy was tackling with no little ferocity, only this time he wasn't dealing with pacifists. In the end, the Dubs were lining up to hit him, and he must have been a very sore boy on Monday morning. Likewise, the Galway full-back put himself about throughout, until Eoghan O'Gara poleaxed him, knocking him senseless. He had it coming.

Damien Comer reminds me of a computer-generated warrior from Lord of the Rings and when he came on, he immediately went on a rampaging solo run and kicked an incredible point against the gale. Quickly, Philly McMahon was in his face and there was an important moment. Like the weigh-in for a prize fight, when the psychological war is often won. The much smaller Philly stuck his forehead under Comer's chin and smiled broadly into his face for ten seconds as if to say, "come on, let's see what you've got".

Nothing, as it turned out. Comer disappeared into the half-back line thereafter and wasn't seen again.

In that second half, the Dubs went from five behind to one up with normal time over. Their commitment was absolute. Ciaran Kilkenny went for a suicide ball that had the crowd gasping. I had my hand over my eyes for a split second, but he emerged unscathed. Later, Jonny Cooper went for another one, played chicken with two Galway men, and won. Cooper would put his head where you wouldn't put a crowbar.

Galway played with great desire throughout and even when other teams might have given up they kept going. Their equalising point came with the last kick of the game, deep in a long injury time caused by endless, final-quarter melees. I stood up at the end, and realised my legs were in spasm from the cold. But in truth the second half flew by. This was a championship battle that was absolutely absorbing and totally entertaining.

Kevin Walsh needs to re-balance his system quickly because they cannot do better than a very good league showing with this formation. He ought to watch Dublin v Tyrone last August. In fairness, Tyrone, with Lee Brennan finally being allowed to play in the opposing team's 45, are inching towards that better balance. Galway are not, and Croke Park next Sunday will illustrate that with a vengeance.

After the game, I travelled to Roscommon for the fabled Michael Glaveys medal presentation. They had sold so many tickets that they had to hire a second function room at the hotel with the proceedings televised on a big screen.

The great Gerry Fitzmaurice (from the Roscommon team of the late '70s and '80s that ought to have won an All-Ireland) was invited on stage to say a few words about the club's junior Bs. He described the fun they had throughout the year, and got a huge laugh when he said he thought this might be down to the fact that they didn't train.

"It was great at the start because we only had the bare 15, so everybody was happy. But as the word spread and the fun got better, we had 16, then 17, and eventually a squad of 20, so now I had a conundrum: How was I going to pick the team? Eventually, I suggested we should organise a bit of training and that we should put it to a vote. The boys got into a huddle and had a quick chat. The motion was defeated 20-0."

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