Sunday 19 January 2020

Galway's lack of warrior spirit will see them fall short

Tribesmen's speed and skill will not be enough when facing Kingdom's dogs of war

21 June 2014; Shane Walsh, Galway. Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Sligo v Galway. Markievicz Park, Sligo. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
21 June 2014; Shane Walsh, Galway. Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Sligo v Galway. Markievicz Park, Sligo. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A lot of energy has been spent for a largely predictable outcome. At least three counties, Kerry, Cork and Mayo, were long odds on to play in the big field in the All-Ireland quarter-finals before a ball was kicked, while Galway always had expectations of being here given their draw in Connacht. Beating London and Sligo to get to the Connacht final was never going to be beyond them and what that meant was one win in the qualifiers and the doors to Croke Park opened.

Now the Lord decreed that the Sabbath was a day of rest but the Galway backs might not agree with that this afternoon if the Kerry forwards move with the same speed and sense of position as they showed in the Munster final.

In Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kerry won almost every break and their forwards played as well as any group in green and gold. It was a sight to behold: pace, skill, good tactics and a fantastic team ethic.

As I came away from that match - a game that I expected Cork to win - I wondered should I believe in what I had witnessed. Now if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably is one. Yet doubts persist after watching Kerry struggle against Clare. Of course Clare are very well organised and pushed Kildare all the way last weekend, but if the Kerry team were a horse running in Galway last week they would be up before the stewards to explain the massive improvement in form.

Perhaps, too, it could be argued that both Clare and Tipperary have a great chance of winning a Munster title very soon; if that is what is happening down south then let it roll on.

Kerry had a great tight structure to their team in the Munster final and like Admiral Nelson told his men before the battle of Trafalgar, that he expected every man to do his duty, the Kerrymen did likewise and more. The match-ups at the back all panned out and playing more or less four midfielders worked out very well. In that area, Anthony Maher, Johny Buckley and Bryan Sheehan were utterly dominant, while Declan O'Sullivan took the field marshal's baton out of his knapsack and moved the pieces around. At times he looked like the policeman who conducted traffic at the bottom of O'Connell street before the lights. Everybody took their cue and obeyed their instructions - including the Cork players.

James O'Donoghue was the star turn, while Paul Geaney seems suited to the big stage, Donnacha Walsh will work in every corner of the field and is a big danger for goals as he takes up great positions. Those are all the working parts, but the biggest plus in the Munster final was how backs like Paul Murphy, Fionn Fitzgerald and Shane Enright got on. They were more than adequate, which suggests that the collective is much more important than the individual. Things were so good that Marc ó Sé had a very quiet time.

Galway will rely on a bit of pace from Shane Walsh to throw Kerry into a bit of disarray. Walsh may find today that, like in the cowboy films, there are reinforcements waiting to cut him off at the pass, as Kerry are not going to indulge him with a straightforward foot race. If they did, Walsh would win every time, but Mayo marked him well by using two or three men. Walsh has outrageous skill. After that point last weekend against Tipperary all I could say was, "did he really do what I thought he did?" Thankfully there are replays.

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Kerry have a great name for bringing class to every game but they always had backs who carried out their orders in whatever way was needed. Just think of a few ó Sés, Tim Kennelly and Jimmy Deenihan and you had men who could play a game in whatever way was necessary, rough or smooth.

These type are the match winners, the rest put the decorations on the tree. Galway today need a few of this type. Tom Flynn, Fiontán ó Curraoin and many more of this team are really nice footballers, but there are no dogs in the side. Gary O'Donnell showed what was needed against Tipperary by going for a ball where he was going to be at least half, if not three-quarters, killed and it is this type of spirit which wins on big days. I feel that Galway have a team of speed and skill but are a bit short of subs and players with a real warrior spirit. Kerry to win.

Mayo take on Cork in the other match and Cork are attempting rehabilitation after the abject surrender in the Munster final. Against Sligo in the qualifiers there was a win and a completely different defensive approach but the jury is still out.

After the Kerry rout I said Cork were a bit spineless in the way they lay down on home soil and this is a game where every player should be looking to restore reputation.

In the wake of that Munster final the Cork players took a slating on social media and there must be something seriously wrong with a society which allows people to anonymously abuse others without any threat of sanction. It is done so much now that it is almost accepted, but there is a moral duty for these sites to ensure that a person's name must be used. Anyway, the Cork team should not worry about it coming from supporters as they don't have many of those and they will largely go into battle today in the usual manner, unloved and unsupported by their own.

Brian Cuthbert has dismissed criticism of dual players as unjust. I don't think anyone criticised these players but merely stated the obvious that it was almost impossible to combine two games at a very high level. A player might as well try to play football and cricket as football and hurling. They are quite entitled to enjoy hurling and football but the reality is that they probably are not as good at either game as they could be by concentrating on one. Eoin Cadogan and Aidan Walsh are two such men the Cork GAA people would probably tell would be better off hurling, so there is a bit of bravery involved playing with the big ball of wind.

Mayo were a bit slow out of the traps this year - if they pull off the great escape it will look like a brilliant strategy was devised. If they come up short again it will be put down to a team on the decline. We are all experts after the event.

For my money, Mayo are building slowly to peak over the next couple of months. They showed against Galway in the Connacht final that they have the maturity to do whatever is necessary to win games like these. No fuss, few frills, they take down the tent and move on. In any other time they would almost certainly win an All-Ireland, but Dublin cast a long shadow and could be getting better as the pack struggle to catch up.

Cork will throw a lot of bodies behind the ball and use only a few like Paul Kerrigan, Colm O'Neill and Brian Hurley as out-and-out forwards. Even Kerrigan may be asked to combine scoring with defence. It is not a strategy that is as well rehearsed as the contrasting approach during the League when it was all-out attack. Today they might retreat, but Mayo will attack from all angles and Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan will crop up in the forwards as much as the named attackers. Tracking these will test Cork, as will marking Cillian O'Connor, who was excellent against Galway. They will also get plenty of the ball from the O'Shea brothers and Barry Moran around midfield.

Cork probably need to score goals to win so Colm O'Neill has to bag a couple and they cannot surrender the breaks from kick-outs as they did against Kerry.

Even with a lot of things going well it is hard to see Cork winning. Mayo are a hardened outfit who are looking beyond today. Against Galway they shut up shop early in the second half and looked as if they went through the motions. Today they will up the tempo of their game and I expect Mayo will be planning for Kerry in the semi-final.

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