Tuesday 20 March 2018

Brendan Cummins: Galway can banish 'chokers' tag with patience and precision

Galway’s Colm Callanan cannot afford to put the ball in the areas commanded by Waterford’s Darragh Fives and Tadhg de Búrca. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Galway’s Colm Callanan cannot afford to put the ball in the areas commanded by Waterford’s Darragh Fives and Tadhg de Búrca. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Like many neutrals, I'm living more in hope than expectation that a novel All-Ireland final will explode into a classic.

But I'm still intrigued to see how Galway will deal with the ultimate test of patience and precision against Waterford. 

These are the two key traits that will be required to unlock the Déise door at Croke Park.

Galway have played against sweepers for the majority of their season but Waterford do it better than anybody. 

During the week, I spent a few hours watching footage taken from behind the goals of how Waterford set up against Kilkenny and Wexford. 

We are all familiar with the role of Tadhg de Búrca in the system, but Darragh Fives is also central to its success.

The role of Fives is to hold his own 65-metre line, ensuring that there's no overlap through the middle that will expose De Búrca. 

Waterford's belief is that this tactic, with seven backs all playing within 70 yards of their own goal, keeps them in the game come what may. More often than not, it's effective. 

Game management is hugely important when you play against Waterford. You have more time than you think inside your own 45-metre line when, on occasion, there might not be a Waterford attacker in sight.

The perfect attacking scenario for Galway is to arrow balls from the left half-back position and into the right corner. 


This can take De Búrca out of the equation and the receiving Galway player then, Conor Cooney or Conor Whelan, has the option to shoot or wait for a support runner.

But I'm sure that Galway manager Micheál Donoghue will have studied the 2016 Munster final, when the Waterford sweeper system crumbled against a Tipp team playing with three inside forwards.

And so, there is an argument for Galway, at some stage during the game, to play with three inside, with Jonathan Glynn, when he comes on, joining Conor Cooney and Whelan.

Waterford will then face the task of standing up to an aerial bombardment and the reason why they struggled in that Tipp game was because De Búrca was swamped with ball coming in. 

But Waterford, since then, have made further tweaks. Opposition teams are playing with five forwards against their seven defenders but because Waterford forwards are working so hard back into the middle third, it's as if they've moved the goalposts 30 yards up the pitch and condensed the play.

They'll allow you have the ball 30 yards from your own goal but when you drive it forward, you're driving it into attackers with odds heavily stacked against them. And Waterford, when they win possession, are excellent on the counter-attack. 

What you'll see is Fives holding that area 60 yards from his own goal, and with De Búrca providing another comfort blanket behind, Galway will really earn their scores. 

The presence of De Búrca will stem the Galway goal threat, and Fives on the 65-metre line will make it more difficult for the Tribesmen to shoot accurately from distance. 

The Galway goalkeeper, Colm Callanan, will have to know what the bodies of Fives and De Búrca look like from 80 yards. He simply can't put the ball into their areas. 

In Waterford's game against Wexford, Fives was perfectly placed on so many occasions, holding in the right-half-back position, on the left side of the opposition's attack. And when Kilkenny tried to find Walter Walsh against Waterford, Fives was there, winning clean possession over his opponent's head.

The system hinges on De Búrca and Fives sitting tight but it also relies on huge work-rate in all areas of the pitch ahead of them, with the half-forwards responsible for watching opposition half-forwards or midfielders drifting back. 

If Callanan decides to play through his own '45 rather than Waterford's, he's running the risk of turnovers.

That's what Waterford want you to do. They want you play high-risk hurling and when 'Brick' invariably wins those frees, Galway could get caught up in their own thinking and Waterford will have them in their trap. 

'Brick' and Moran, so good at holding possession and waiting for the cavalry to arrive, have also contributed 3-14 between them in this year's championship.

Coupled with the defensive shutters going up at the other end of the field, Waterford have their platform to play from. It's a finely-tuned overall system - and it will take a good Galway performance to break it down.

The absence of Conor Gleeson for Waterford is a blow. For me, he's been the best man-marker in this year's championship - and the guy who would potentially have picked up Joe Canning.

It's one less option for Derek McGrath, and can only hurt his team's chances of winning. 

As for Galway, they've been comfortable so far in winning matches by scoring points but they might need goals this time. 

They'll be like hen's teeth against Waterford but I still expect Galway to win the game, if they can hold their nerve in that 'squeaky bum' period down the home straight. 


The ideal scenario for Galway is to get two scores, or four points, ahead. What will Waterford do then? That's the question Galway need to ask - and they have the personnel to do it. 

They also have the perfect blend of physicality, confidence and no little skill. 

And their game management and composure against Tipperary in the semi-final should ensure that the big day won't faze them.

But if they flop again on final day, the old 'chokers' tag will rear its head.

As a Galway player, that's not a legacy you want to leave behind but I've said all summer that they look like a team ready to win the All-Ireland.

I haven't seen enough to change my mind on that - provided they play their way through this final test.

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