Sunday 19 November 2017

Cooney to the fore in bloodless Tribe coup

Allianz NHL div one semi-final: Galway 1-21 Limerick 1-11

Galway’s Conor Whelan shoots towards goal despite the efforts of Limerick’s Mike Casey, left, and Seamus Hickey at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Galway’s Conor Whelan shoots towards goal despite the efforts of Limerick’s Mike Casey, left, and Seamus Hickey at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A match so nondescript it blurred effortlessly into all those other league matches that Galway have inevitably put Limerick to the sword in over the last decade.

A match so nondescript it blurred effortlessly into all those other league matches that Galway have inevitably put Limerick to the sword in over the last decade.

In years to come should the 9,523 spectators seek to recall where they spent Easter Sunday 2017, they'll have to dig deep to come up with the Gaelic Grounds for this semi-final.

It made no mark, left no impression.

This was a seventh successive win over Limerick in the competition, and like so many of the previous six it had the Treaty men at arm's length, swinging furiously but failing to land anything that resembled a blow against a side that just has their number.

Galway's return to a League final for the first time in seven years was bloodless in the end, setting up a rematch of last year's magnificent All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary and putting to the test the theory that these are now the best two teams around.

Limerick's Barry Nash in action against Galway's Gearoid McInerney. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Limerick's Barry Nash in action against Galway's Gearoid McInerney. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Limerick manager John Kiely could reach for any number of crutches here: 17 wides, the loss of Declan Hannon in the first half and Seamus Hickey not long after the restart and the dynamic of a young team still finding a way against far more seasoned opponents.

But this still wouldn't explain the gulf between them. Long before the end some of the home support had already passed judgement with their swift exit.

It was done and dusted once Conor Cooney managed to shake off Richie English to gather Cathal Mannion's smart delivery and bat past Nicky Quaid on 56 minutes.

Advantage

Galway's Conor Whelan in action against Limerick's Mike Casey. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Galway's Conor Whelan in action against Limerick's Mike Casey. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

English clearly fouled Cooney but the advantage in allowing play to develop was evident with the finish.

That gave Galway a 1-15 to 1-9 cushion and Limerick took it as a door shut in their face. Time to move on. As if they knew they had no business being where they were anyway.

For Cooney it was further evidence of resurgent form. Having struggled through the 2015 season, he inched his way back last year and is now thriving.

Any time the ball was presented right to him he won it and did something productive with it.

Beside him Mannion also prowled with menace and his appreciation of space helped him to four points.

Outside them, Joe Canning was creative and always involved but his radar was off cue too often. In the first half alone he registered four wides, three from play. He was more measured in the second half against a wind that wasn't nearly as strong as it had been for Limerick in the opening 39 minutes.

Generally Micheal Donoghue will be pleased with the work-rate of his players. They made blocks, they turned ball over and got in for some timely interceptions, notably Aidan Harte in the second half.

Harte was one of their better defenders but no-one else consistently got to the level that Padraic Mannion reached at right half-back.

The firebrand snappy approach of both Johnny Coen and David Burke overwhelmed Limerick, who dwelled too much on the ball and were caught out too often until they went quicker and longer in the closing stages.

Limerick's attack just didn't function. From the starting six just three points were mined and it took the introduction of Barry Nash and John Fitzgibbon for the last quarter to double that.

Cian Lynch showed some early enterprise in that withdrawn role that seems to suit him and he had the most obvious goal chance in the ninth minute when a shot flashed across Colm Callanan's goalmouth, but as the game progressed Galway's defence had his movement well tracked.

The loss of Hannon so early on was significant but Gavin O'Mahony deputised well. Hickey's departure just after the break was probably even greater as he had really carried the fight to Galway on the left wing.

In the absence of Hickey and Hannon, captain Diarmuid Byrnes really stood up to match the power and aggressive approach of a physically stronger Galway team.

Despite playing with the wind Limerick really had no business still being in the game at the break. They were five points down, 0-13 to 1-5, their goal on 20 minutes coming out of an intuitive piece of play by centre-forward David Dempsey, who managed to direct the ball into Na Piarsaigh team-mate William O'Donoghue's path, despite being grounded.

O'Donoghue couldn't control but managed to stab the ball with his foot past Callanan to cut the deficit to 0-7 to 1-3, totally out of sync with the run of play. Galway were unruffled and landed the next three points to wipe out the impact on the scoreboard and by the break Canning had a hand in three further scores for that five-point advantage.

Nothing reflected the folly of Limerick's ponderous and short approach more than the turnover for Burke's 46th-minute point that left six in it, 0-15 to 1-6 on 46 minutes.

Limerick did get some traction with two frees from Shane Dowling and a Nash point courtesy of a long delivery that the Galway defence didn't collectively have time to control. But when Cooney applied the coup de grace, after good approach work from Gearoid McInerney and Cathal Mannion, the deflationary effect was palpable.

Limerick are better than this. By summer the likes of Nash, Ronan Lynch and Tom Morrissey will be starters and that should improve scoring returns, while the protection offered to a hard-pressed full-back line will have to be better notwithstanding the departures of Hannon and Hickey.

But mixing up a shorter game is going to take time and no end of patience from their support. That's the difficult part.

Galway's team continues to take shape under Donoghue but even they will have come away from the Gaelic Grounds with a sense that this match was undercooked.

Scorers - Galway: J Canning 0-7 (6fs), C Cooney 1-4, C Mannion 0-4, C Whelan 0-2, P Mannion, J Coen, D Burke, T Monaghan 0-1 each. Limerick: S Dowling 0-5 (4fs), W O'Donoghue 1-0, B Nash 0-2, J Fitzgibbon, D Byrnes, D Dempsey, C Lynch 0-1 each.

Galway: C Callanan 7; A Tuohy 7, J Hanbury 6, A Harte 7; P Mannion 8, G McInerney 7, Daithi Burke 6; J Coen 7, David Burke 7; P Brehony 6, J Canning 6, J Cooney 6; C Whelan 7, C Mannion 8, C Cooney 8. Subs: T Monaghan 6 for Brehony (53), P Killeen 7 for Hanbury (55), N Burke for J Cooney (63), J Flynn for Whelan (66), S Loftus for David Burke (67)

Limerick: N Quaid 7; R English 6, R McCarthy 6, M Casey 7; D Byrnes 8, D Hannon 6, S Hickey 7; A Dempsey 6, W O'Donoghue 7; S Dowling 5, D Dempsey 6, G Hegarty 5; C Lynch 6, K Hayes 5, G Mulcahy 5. Subs: G O'Mahony 7 for Hannon inj (15), S Finn 5 for Hickey inj (37), B Nash 8 for Mulcahy (47), J Fitzgibbon 7 for D Dempsey (52), J Ryan 6 for A Dempsey (52).

ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)

Game at a glance

Man of the match

Conor Cooney (Galway)

Started and finished the match strongly, scoring 1-4 and generally winning any ball that was put in his vicinity.

Talking point

Limerick's performance was so far off the mark it has to be a concern.

Magic moment

Few and far between but how David Dempsey got the ball to William O'Donoghue for the Limerick goal deserves credit.

Ref watch

We can say it's the rules but how Limerick substitute James Ryan avoided a card for dragging down Johnny Coen was baffling. If it was football, it was a certain black. Generally sound otherwise.

Match statistics

Wides

Galway 11 (4) Limerick 17 (7)

Frees

Galway 13 (6)

Limerick 10 (5)

Yellow cards

Galway 2 (Cathal Mannion 34, Johnny Coen 40)

Limerick 3 (Seamus Hickey 34, Mike Casey 44, Richie English 60)

Attendance

9,523

What's next

Galway play Tipperary in next Sunday's league final, Limerick have a Munster Championship date with Clare on Sunday, June 4 to look ahead to.

Irish Independent

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