Thursday 16 August 2018

Anthony Cunningham: Memories of final failures can get Joe Canning and Galway home

Forward strength and experience tilts the balance in favour of my beloved Tribesmen

Jonathan Glynn (left) and Joe Canning show their disappointment after the 2015 All-Ireland final defeat against Kilkenny. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Jonathan Glynn (left) and Joe Canning show their disappointment after the 2015 All-Ireland final defeat against Kilkenny. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

Anthony Cunningham

Sunday's All-Ireland final will involve a series of emotions for me but above all I am a Galway man, and I've found that it is much harder being in the stand supporting them than it was leading them on the line.

The tension late in the semi-final win over Tipperary was so palpable. As a supporter, especially a Galway fan - armed, as everyone one of us is, with memories aplenty of final-flight falls - it was nearly tortuous.

Being a player in those final defeats in 2012 and 2015 was worse again - but finally, the Tribesmen can utilise those experiences in a positive way and get over the line in this most novel of novel finals.

People say it's an unexpected pair but, to borrow a racing analogy, the form-lines stack up. The 2016 league finalists against the 2017 winners square off and there's no doubt Waterford weren't concerned about the league this year. They tired in the Munster final in 2016 and even so, should have still gone on to beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.

In the last couple of seasons, Galway have been more or less within a point of Tipperary, last year's All-Ireland winners. I think Galway will win this time, but they need a performance a good bit better than their most recent success over Tipp - for a number of reasons.

Waterford are coming to the boil at the right time. They have a very controlled, defensive game-plan: they draw back wing-forwards, rendering a battle ground of the middle third; it is very unlikely they will deviate from the plan. Galway must be ultra-patient but they have the players. Their breadth of scores is the best way to counteract the sweeper.


Aidan Harte will drop back, as against Wexford. The danger is Galway face a team with a far more experienced system than the Model: they are about four years ahead. Davy Fitzgerald had six months. Michael 'Brick' Walsh, Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron will pull deep, create rucks and invite runners; this resulted in two goals against Cork.

Galway's edge is apparent in the strengths and weaknesses synopsis. Galway are now defensively formidable and the reliance on 'JC' (Joe Canning) in attack is not what it was. Any of their forwards can score at will and they've a stopper in Colm Callanan arguably as worthy of any of that elusive medal. He is a brilliant shot-stopper, though his puckouts will now be key. Galway may even be banking on conceding no goals.

Can the Déise get that crucial 'major'? Their main plus is the system: they play on their own terms. Having learnt from the Munster final of '16, they cut down on leaking goals. They'll rely on 'Brick' and Moran to set up scores off enthusiastic runners.

The Déise's disadvantage is in their scoring ability: to win an All-Ireland it is probably not good enough. We won't see anything like Seamus Callanan's heroics last year, and their two inside forwards are certain to be taken off after working their socks off.

Galway, however, have never beaten them in the championship, and a potential weakness is a historically questionable use of the ball against sweeper systems. A bombardment of high sliotar will not suffice: they simply have to be smart when the pressure is on. May they revert to type?

I feel we'll see the same line-outs as the last day. If congestion prevails, Canning can sit deeper, gain a foothold and invite the inside line more into play. It's likely that Joe will be double-marked so Galway must go through the phases more than they did against Tipp.

David Burke's performances have been questioned but I feel he's been involved in a different role, somewhat unnoticed. He's been coming deep to get on the out-ball, setting up scores.

Moreover, look critically at Moran versus Burke and David has a score to settle: he has lost more battles than he has won against the De La Salle man.

Then we're on to the mother of all duels, Austin Gleeson v Gearoid McInerney - Galway's best player this year. Austin can't wait until the last 20 to open up, like against Cork: he must score earlier. McInerney's battles against Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Lee Chin will not be replicated as Austin will drag him out of position.

It is hurtful to recall the '12 and '15 reverses but there are positives to pluck from ruins of despair.

The vast majority of Galway's players saw combat two years ago, very many in 2012. You can't beat that experience - or coach it.

Taking the right decision will be critical in the last 10 to 15 minutes, during which Galway should have an edge they acquired over the years. Will Gleeson, and those others who have never played in a final, make the right calls against a defence a step up from the Rebels?

In those finals, some Galway players slipped out of the game or succumbed to distraction, albeit against a ruthless animal. Brian Cody had Eoin Larkin and Henry Shefflin to turn a game; I don't think that presence is there from Waterford.

Are there regrets? Not really. Our players were ahead in two All-Irelands at half-time so something must have been right. Nor is the blame on players: they were toppled by an awesome team.

In 2015 a couple of decisions went against our lads, who got frustrated. There was a blood injury, heavy knocks, guys pulled out of position. They got unnerved.

Countless times I went over with the players that they must read situations in real time. Joe can come deep, get more of the ball, even be defensive. That sort of thing comes with experience.


He can find Conor Whelan, introduced under my reign in 2015. Even then he had massive self-confidence - just what you would want from a raw recruit.

He looks like he's been on the panel for ten years. Allied to that he is incredibly accurate, unbelievably skilful. And his first ambition? Simple. To score.

Joe's five points at the end of the Tipp game were desperately needed and I've nothing but admiration for the best player my county has seen in two or three decades.

As I alluded to, I'm a Galway supporter. Victory would involve great satisfaction for me: I can reflect that I helped in some way. And ultimately that is the beauty of inter-county teams: there is a connection with nearly every player.

It may be parochial. It could be from U-8 hurling. Perhaps you soldiered with him in school; you might be club administrator. Everyone from Micheál Donoghue to the man with the lawnmower has a connection, a role to play.

I believe Galway will win because of their range of scorers and ability from distance. They have an edge in experience, and possess a better defence than what the Déise have come up against so far this year.

Irish Independent

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