Saturday 24 February 2018

Brendan Cummins: September box seat warm for Galway

This was another ominous statement of intent from Micheál Donoghue's men - they'll take some stopping

Galway players and supporters celebrate winning the Leinster SHC final but they will have eyes on further silverware in the coming months. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway players and supporters celebrate winning the Leinster SHC final but they will have eyes on further silverware in the coming months. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Galway have added the Leinster title to their League crown - and now they're in the box seat to finish the season as All-Ireland champions.

Yesterday, they struck me as a team playing with real maturity, and ready to reach another level.

Wexford threw everything at them and Diarmuid O'Keeffe's second-half goal cut the gap to four points.

This Galway, a few years ago, might have shown signs of panic but instead, leaders are now standing up all over the pitch.

I would have felt before the game that Wexford's full-back line was an area for Galway to target - and that's how it proved.

The Wexford sweeper, Shaun Murphy, did well considering the pressure they were under back there but Galway's main inside man, Conor Cooney, finished with seven points from play.

People might question Galway's credentials on the basis that they didn't score a goal but that's missing the point.

They knew that something up around 30 points would suffice and they don't need to prove that they're capable of scoring goals.

Against the last team they faced that played pretty conventionally, they scored three, and that was Tipp in the League final.

Galway can adapt to any situation and much of that is down to their strength and conditioning.

They've obviously spent the last two years under the weights bar but sometimes when you do that, you can plateau.

This is why pinching Lukasz Kirszenstein from Tipp has proven such a shrewd move.

Having worked under this guy, I know how good he is.

He's been involved in a team with a winning mentality, one that tasted All-Ireland success.

People like that in your backroom team are invaluable.

Just look at Conor Whelan for an example.

He might not have scored yesterday but he was effectively marking two men for most of the second half and still won the majority of battles for possession.

He's not 21 until October but he's the new model of a Galway hurler.

Joseph Cooney was excellent too, plucking puck-outs from the sky, but as well as aerial ability and strength, these Galway players have such good wrists.

They're able to strike the ball in tight spaces, they don't have to draw back the hurley too far to make it talk.

The two Cooneys - Joseph and Conor - were excellent in this facet of play and it sets them up for later in the year when they're chasing immortality.

I experienced that good feeling in 2010, when you feel comfortable in your own skin and you just know that you're ready to win the big one.

Whatever is said outside your camp is just background noise as you know you're the real deal.

Galway are embracing the favourites tag and that's reflected in how they're playing.

From a Wexford viewpoint, people will argue that you can't win a match playing with five forwards against seven backs.

Project

But Davy Fitz has said that it's year one of a three-year project. For now, he's using a style of play that suits the players at his disposal.

Let's not forget that this style got them promoted, saw them run Tipp close in a League semi-final, and was good enough to beat Kilkenny in a Leinster semi-final.

So, why would he change his style for an All-Ireland quarter-final?

Any team fortunate enough to get through the Qualifiers won't relish facing Wexford, that's for sure.

They'll bring a huge following with them for what's left of their campaign and you'll remember how that support worked in their favour when they beat Waterford at Nowlan Park in 2014.

The sheer volume of fans that travelled from Wexford yesterday helped to ensure a record Leinster final crowd of 60,032 - and they've lit up the hurling summer.

They'll have learned a lot from yesterday's experience and while their use of the ball was hurried at times, that was down to Galway's sheer physicality.

But unless their paths cross again before the end of the season, they won't meet a team as physically imposing as Galway again.

Wexford struggled to impose their running game through the middle simply because they couldn't get any ball on the ground.

There was no second phase possession to latch onto because Galway were winning primary ball in their half-back line.

The contested aerial balls stat from the game favoured Galway 17-2 - and that tells you something.

Galway also won the hooks/blocks/tackles count and that provided the platform for victory.

The point is that Galway won't allow you a platform of your own.

They're so big and physical and they're getting low over the ball in the rucks.

And it should be noted too that Wexford came up against a team used to playing with a sweeper themselves.

Aidan Harte played the role to perfection, operating in front of his full-back line, instead of behind, as was the case with his Wexford counterpart Murphy.

Galway's game awareness would have told them that goals were not needed to get across the line, based on the knowledge that Wexford had that extra defender parked in front of their own goal.

A hat-tip to those old gun-slingers, Kilkenny, to finish up.

Of the big guns in the qualifiers on Saturday, they were the most impressive, for me.

The sheriff, Michael Fennelly, was back in town and to call the tune like that in Nowlan Park against Limerick, without any real match practice, was nothing short of sensational.

Irish Independent

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