Friday 19 October 2018

Champions will find a way to pass new test from west

Dublin's Brian Howard has grown enormously in his first season as a regular starter. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's Brian Howard has grown enormously in his first season as a regular starter. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Never in championship history have a team gone into the All-Ireland semi-final off such a confusing background as Galway take to Croke Park this evening.

Eleven wins, a draw and two defeats in 14 league and championship games is an impressive seasonal yield but, unfortunately for Galway, it's the timing of one of the losses which raises awkward questions.

Losing by eight points to Monaghan a week ago, while returning their lowest score in the championship for 27 years, is not exactly what any team would want heading into a semi-final.

Galway's 0-8 last Saturday was their lowest in the championship since losing to Mayo (3-11 to 0-8) in the 1991 Connacht semi-final. It was also less than half their average score throughout the year.

Of course, it may have been a one-off, sparked by a motivation deficit, arising from being already qualified for the semi-final. For their own sake, it had better be, because if it were anything else, like for instance a sign that they had gone over the top after a demanding season, the consequences could be severe.

In terms of how they had to plan for the year, there was a massive difference in how Kevin Walsh and Jim Gavin could go about things.

Expectations

With a panel of proven winners, Dublin didn't have to do a whole lot of work for the league, whereas Galway needed to be much more tuned in for what was their first season in Division 1 since 2011.

They exceeded expectation, reaching the final, which was the only game they lost. Even then, they stretched Dublin all the way.

It's what happened after that that could well be having an impact now. Galway had to go flat out, physically and mentally, to be ready for the championship clash with Mayo on May 13.

Meanwhile, Dublin didn't begin their Leinster campaign until May 27 and, even then, it was against a struggling Wicklow team that had finished bottom of Division 4.

Uniquely among all the top contenders, Dublin can plan their fitness regime to reach its peak later than others because there's no genuine threat to them in Leinster. That's quite a luxury to go with their residency in Croke Park for the majority of games.

Against those contrasting backgrounds, it's easy to understand why Dublin are such overwhelming favourites today. They have shown some signs of defensive fraying, but hardly enough to bring down the castle.

Also, they have a bright new talent in Brian Howard, whose stature has grown enormously in his first season as a regular starter.

It all looks to be coming together nicely for Dublin once again, which may actually be a cause for concern for Gavin.

Sometimes, a situation can appear too perfect just before something happens that nobody would have anticipated.

Galway's collapse against Monaghan was certainly unfortunate timing from their perspective but over the rest of the season, they had beaten Mayo, Kerry and Kildare twice each, Tyrone, Monaghan, Donegal, Roscommon, Sligo and drew with Dublin, so obviously they have done a lot right.

If they bring their 'A' game to Croke Park and unleash the prodigious talents of Shane Walsh and Damien Comer as out-and-out attackers, as opposed to auxiliary defenders, they will definitely test Dublin in what will be their first semi-final appearance since 2001.

However, it looks likely that Dublin will move a step closer to four All-Irelands in a row.

Irish Independent

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