Sunday 15 September 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Tribe the better team, but iron-willed rivals look ready to roar once again'

Analysis

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Watching yesterday's epic hammered home a fact about Brian Cody's Kilkenny I learnt a long time ago: to beat them by one point, you have to be the better team by six points.

There's a reason it was their first Championship defeat in Nowlan Park for 70 years. When other teams go behind as they did yesterday, they stand back off the game and look at ways of playing their way out. Kilkenny take a step forward and say 'right, you can beat us by 50 points if you want, but we're going down swinging'.

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By doing that they put the opposition on the back foot. Their aggression and never-say-die attitude separates them from the rest - and it's still in them.

Yes, they got exposed at the back at times, but that's a result of their style as they follow you around the pitch. With Tipp we always saw it as their weakest point that nobody sits. They play on the edge and that's why I think they're the ones that can give Tipperary the most trouble. They'll go nose to nose everywhere.

Is their belief structure that much better that teams can't put them away? I'm not sure, but Galway were lucky to win. You could see it in Micheál Donoghue's reaction at full-time; he couldn't believe his luck that the ref blew it up and there should have been another minute or two.

Galway should really have been out of sight after Paul Murphy was sent off, but the failings of Salthill reappeared. They had Joseph Cooney spare on most puck-outs, but never worked the ball through him and went long instead.

From the sending off until full-time, they hit nine long puck-outs and lost five, going short just once. When they went long it came to the Kilkenny half-back line where they had no numerical advantage and it allowed the Cats a foothold. That's asking for trouble.

Don't get me wrong, this was a better Galway, but they can be a lot better. Adrian Tuohey coming out around the half-forward line was a big help and the position of Cathal Mannion in the middle makes Galway seven or eight points better. Not only does he score, but he puts the ball in front of others. They still need a free-taker and for me it should be Cathal Mannion - the guy in form.

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Joseph Cooney looked more settled at wing-back and while Jonathan Glynn is a big ball winner, there's an over-reliance on him which could make them one-dimensional and easier to defend.

One big opportunity they're missing is the runs David Burke is making inside the opposition's half-back line, as the Galway half-forward line are not seeing him.

We had that with Lar Corbett and did video sessions showing where he ends up on the pitch, as if he's blind to defenders in his movement, he can often be blind to forwards, unless you're looking for him.

When Galway start seeing Burke's runs they're going to score another 1-2 or 1-3 because he's ghosting behind defences a lot.

We saw a lot of the dark arts of defence with players pulled down when one-on-one, but that's not exclusive to Galway or Kilkenny.

There are video sessions across the country where they're teaching fellas that when you're the last man and he gets inside you, pull him down and take the yellow.

Fair play to Ger Aylward as he took a clothesline shot from John Hanbury and got straight up. That's the Kilkenny way: manly hurling.

Still, if I was Brian Cody I'd have TJ Reid in bubble wrap, hoping to God he doesn't get injured. He ran riot yesterday and basically beat Dublin on his own. With Walter Walsh, Eoin Murphy and Cillian Buckley all due back, the Cats will have a major say in the All-Ireland shake-up.

So too will Limerick, with Aaron Gillane doing for them what Reid is for Kilkenny. The lack of star power is part of the reason Waterford and Clare are bottom. But the biggest thing killing Clare? Nothing changed since the league.

Limerick had 71 possessions in open play yesterday and turned it over 35 times, or 49pc. Clare had 60 possessions and turned it over 45 times (75pc). You just cannot do that. When you're attacking, your sweeper is pushing up to support the play and when you give the ball away, he's out of position. The ball goes back over the top, it's three on three and they score.

The distribution from Donal Tuohy was really disappointing - hitting balls to ankles - and too many times there was poor striking out the field. It was a mess in the All-Ireland semi-final last year and the same here.

Tony Kelly went missing, touching the ball fewer than 10 times in total, and it was such a contrast to compare him to Limerick's key man, Aaron Gillane. He's been ridiculous recently, bullying corner-backs and running absolutely riot - an amazing player.

When you think of teams that win All-Irelands, you think of Gillane, Reid, Joe Canning - the ultra-elite category of player that make the difference. The harsh reality is that if your marquee man can't wear that tag comfortably, then your county is goosed.

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