Friday 24 May 2019

Ciarán Whelan: There have been too many cracks appearing in Galway's game-plan over the last few games

Galway manager Kevin Walsh speaks to his players
Galway manager Kevin Walsh speaks to his players

Ciarán Whelan

MY immediate thoughts when I think of Dublin versus Galway brings me back to 1983 – the day of the 12 Apostles. With the raining spilling down in Croke Park, Heffo's army won the All-Ireland with 12 men on the pitch at the end of the game.

As a seven-year-old at the time, it is one of my fondest sporting memories. I can remember been engrossed in the game as I witnessed, for the first time, Dublin winning an All-Ireland. 

Brian Mullins was first to get an early shower, followed three minutes later by Ray Hazley, who got into a dust-up with Tomás Tierney. The next to go was Kieran Duff after moment of madness when he flicked his boot towards the face of Pat O'Neill. 

It looked a lot worse than it was but Duff was always going to get his marching orders.

Much was made of the fact that Galway's Brian Talty did not appear for the second half, with all sorts of conspiracy theories about what happened in the tunnel at half-time. 

What really happened we will never exactly know and to this day it is like the third secret of Fatima! 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kieran Duff on the Dublin GAA podcast over the summer and there is no better man to give an honest reflection on the events of 1983. 

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His theory was that Talty had been flattened by PJ Buckley in a tackle just before half-time and the reason he did not reappear for the second half was that he was unable to do so as a result of the clash with Buckley.

It does not marry with many of the conspiracies but you have to take the man at his word.

The 1983 final was an iconic match, when Heffo, after Dublin's three sendings off, dropped ten men behind the ball, with Joe McNally operating as the lone ranger up front.

Joe was just 19 years old at the time, the same age as David Clifford is now, and he was instrumental in dragging Dublin over the line for a famous victory.

It is hard to believe that Dublin have not met Galway in the senior championship since that day.

On Saturday they will renew acquaintances in headquarters in what I expect will be a very different game

So how much can been read into Galway's meek display against Monaghan last weekend? Were Monaghan that good? Or where Galway switched off? 

Galway lost out to Monaghan and they will need to regain their momentum quickly if they are to have any chance of causing a shock against Dublin. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Some teams in their stages of development will still have cracks appearing when it really matters. It is for that reason that Dublin will beat Galway.

Galway have developed an edge and process over the last 12 months but there have been too many cracks appearing in their game-plan over the last few games. 

They have been on an upward curve but are far from the finished article.

A team ready to win an All-Ireland would have a ruthless streak and the manner in which they downed tools last week has to be of concern to their management and supporters. 

The Galway system of play means that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

All it took was two or three players to lack focus, with one eye on an All-Ireland semi-final this weekend, for the Tribesmen to falter.

Once that happens, their defensive system implodes.

You cannot but credit Monaghan in how they went about their business as they carved open the Galway defence like a knife through butter.

Galway's 'reward' for their performance last weekend is another shot at the Dubs. 

Whilst they will have taken hope from a positive enough league final performance, this is a challenge of a different kind.

So what can we expect from Galway?

Firstly, their performance should be much improved. Their intensity and concentration will be at the right level and the criticism this week should channel a more highly organised, committed performance.

Galway's best periods of football this year have come from their dominance in midfield.

Thomas Flynn has been crucial in that sector winning primary possession to put his team on the front foot.

Dominating midfield, as they did for periods against Roscommon, Kildare and Kerry, allowed Galway to have a more attacking shape up front where they can play to their strengths.

If they do not win primary possession, they hit their default position with their midfielders and half-forwards retreating to their defensive zones along the 45-metre line.

It is highly likely that Dublin will go after the Galway kickout with a strong zonal press.

Ruairi Lavelle is not operating at the same level as Rory Beggan, Niall Morgan or Stephen Cluxton. His preference when he goes long is to go down his left-hand side which is straight into James McCarthy's territory. 

Gavin will have his homework done on Galway. With Paul Conroy out injured, Brian Fenton will pick up Flynn and Dublin will commit bodies to that long kick-out. They will also press the short kick-outs and look to unnerve Lavelle.    

Kevin Walsh's Galway have progressed as a team through the development of their defensive system.

It is a system that will be effective against 90pc of counties but not Dublin.

If they sit back like they did against Monaghan, Dublin will play with width and their running lines will open up the Galway defensive system with ease. 

Manager Walsh cannot lay out a game-plan based on conservatism.

Yes, he may try keep the game tight for first half but if Galway are to succeed, they must try and come after Dublin at some stage in the game. Sticking to Plan A will simply not be enough.    

If Dublin press up hard on Galway, they will give them chances at the other end of the field. Galway need to mix up their attacking plan and be brave enough to go long and direct at times.

Much has been made of the threat that Galway's front three of Damien Comer, Ian Burke and Shane Walsh will bring. If Galway are to rattle the Dubs, all three must perform. 

Comer ran riot at times against Dublin in the league final, especially in the early stages. Ian Burke is their key link man who will create the space and opportunities for others whilst Shane Walsh brings the X-factor to Galway's counter-attacking game. 

You would suspect that Walsh's personal space will be invaded by John Small for 70 minutes and Philly McMahon and Johnny Cooper will tasked with marking roles on Comer and Burke. 

The Galway template and game-plan as a team and individuals will be dissected and analysed in great detail by Jim Gavin and his players.

Whilst Galway are still in race for Sam, their race could be run at this stage.

This will not be the Dublin team that played in the league final. This is the business end of the year and I suspect that will show on the scoreboard. Dublin by eight points.

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