Saturday 18 August 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Galway's system is not making the most of their quality players

Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway manager Kevin Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

You didn't have to work in the Met Office to predict that the GAA season was playing fast and loose with the weather - and the weather always wins.

This is not a case of being wise after the event because I did predict a few months ago that there would be some event which would wipe out fixtures and that trying to shoehorn the biggest number of games in the entire year into February and March was a really stupid way of doing business. And let's not forget the third-level championships either. I thought it would be rain which would cause postponements but there are very few years when January, February and March are suitable for playing matches every weekend.

Bad and all as the conditions have been for football, how can hurling be improved by playing in them?

For what? So the outgoing executives could claim April to be free for clubs. We live, laugh and sometimes learn. Anyone who expects every county player to be available for their club during the whole month of April should expect a visit soon from the men in white coats.

Anyway, the enforced break last week was good for all players. The snow meant little training could be done either. A few days away from football after a hectic opening to the year is no harm at all.

The early months of the year have been kind to Galway. Today they play Monaghan and will expect another two points, and if they get them, a win from one of their last two matches would see them into the Allianz League final. Meeting Dublin at that point might not be on the management radar, but you can't play the best teams often enough.

When I commented on the Kerry-Galway game two weeks ago, I described the Galway style as ugly, even if highly effective. And I compared their play with some of their great teams of the past, who played with a bit more flair and freedom. Manager Kevin Walsh was part of one of those sides. Were there ever better forwards on the one side than Ja Fallon, Michael Donnellan and Pádraic Joyce, with Seán Óg de Paor raiding from the back?

Now they have similar talent. Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Eamonn Brannigan would give most backs their fill of it if they stayed up front, but Comer seems to spend as much time making tackles in his own half as doing what he's best at. He needs to be nearer the goal and taking on the full-back.

The same applies to the other two. Walsh is such a balanced runner and defences will be very happy to see him far from goal and taking a full part in the rough and tumble. Every team will have a Cowboy Joe to cut him off at the pass when he gets close to town. And Brannigan showed against Kerry that he can play a bit. His goal was a delightful exercise in improvisation.

There is a very clear pattern to the Galway play now. They all retreat into the same defensive phalanx as many other teams and then use their speed to break quickly. The defenders are obviously encouraged to attack and it is no coincidence that two backs, Johnny Heaney and Seán Ó Ceallaigh, had goal chances against Kerry. They seem to be working on a system where the man who breaks out of defence with the ball keeps going right to the end. It is designed to get players ahead of the ball in a rapid counter-attack.

It's not much different to what nearly every other top county does and it is quite understandable too as Galway have had a fairly ropey defence for the last few years, so it does need a bit of propping up. The cost is sacrificing the best forwards into utility players who have to put their fingers in the dyke like everyone else. It's a little like asking Pavarotti to sing a bit of country and western at a barn dance.

Galway have a lot of good players. Paul Conroy and Gareth Bradshaw have been through the mill and young Peter Cooke has a future at midfield, while any team that can afford to bring on Tom Flynn, Gary O'Donnell and Seán Armstrong has strength in depth. Yet their style must evolve. Some people are giving credit to Paddy Tally from Tyrone for bringing this type of system to Galway. If I was from Galway that would worry me greatly. The last thing Galway need is to be welded into a fairly inflexible Tyrone approach.

It may be bringing results at the moment and Kevin Walsh will be happy that, whatever about style or aesthetics, he has a winning side which is improving players' confidence and cultivating a feel-good factor around the county.

It may be strange to be critical of a team which created so many clear-cut goal chances against Kerry, but that Kerry team will never see the field in championship football. Galway have the players to improve substantially if they make adjustments to their system, the main one being to keep their best forwards close to goal and encourage them to attack their men at every opportunity.

If the defence needs four extra players to hold their hands then the best teams will hem them into their own half and destroy them. The real tests lie ahead, Dublin in the league and Mayo in the championship. This system won't beat either of them.

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