Friday 16 November 2018

Cyril Farrell and John Mullane's All-Ireland final breakdown: Limerick project not quite ready to take down Galway

Kiely's men will stick to their game-plan but champions have the tools to disrupt it

Shane Dowling (left) and Joe Canning (right).
Shane Dowling (left) and Joe Canning (right).

Cyril Farrell and John Mullane

Cyril Farrell

In all probability, there has never been a better hurling championship, so it's perfectly reasonable to expect the final to provide a fitting sign-off to a wonderful season.

It's an intriguing pairing too as Galway go for the two-in-a-row and Limerick attempt to end the 45-year wait. Galway were All-Ireland favourites from the start of the year, whereas Limerick were regarded as a work-in-progress that might need another year to mature.

It was a script they ignored. Indeed, their progress has been one of the highlights of the season and now they are one win away from guaranteeing themselves a prime place in county's famous sporting history.

1 LIMERICK'S STRENGTHS

It took a while to win over some sections of the supporters, but John Kiely got there in the end. And now they have all bought into a system that is different to what would have been regarded as the traditional Limerick style.

It used to be hit-and-whip, a direct approach with no frills. Now, it's more structured, a possession game based on 25-30-yard crisp passes off the hurley. It often starts with the corner-backs, who move it on to the half-backs and so on.

It doesn't involve all that much handpassing, so it's difficult to counteract, especially when the player about to receive the pass times his run correctly. Once the ball is moved out to midfield, the angled pass into the corners comes into play.

The forwards work hard at stretching the opposition with off-the-ball runs, designed to create one-on-one situations close to goal. It's no accident how often Graeme Mulcahy and Aaron Gillane get good ball played into their corners, with only one defender close to either of them.

Limerick's game-plan is very effective and, equally importantly, they trust it, even when things aren't going their way. It would have been easy to discard it and go long and direct when they fell six points behind Cork coming towards the end of the semi-final, but instead they stuck with the system and it led them to safety.

2 LIMERICK'S WEAKNESSESS

Ironically, their biggest strength could also be their biggest weakness. Their passing game is great when it works but what if it doesn't? Galway will target it as an area where they have to cause maximum disruption.

You can expect Limerick corner-backs, Seán Finn and Richie English, and wing-backs, Diarmuid Byrnes and Dan Morrissey, to come under enormous pressure.

If they're not allowed to get those snappy passes away - or if they are even forced into being less accurate - then Galway will be on the front foot.

Finn and English are key men in the Limerick strategy. Indeed, it's interesting that the only game they lost in the championship was when Finn went off early on against Clare.

His replacement Tom Condon was sent off some time later with Clare's David Reidy and suddenly Limerick were uncomfortable.

Their game-plan had been disrupted by unforeseen circumstances rather than anything the opposition did and they didn't react very well. Galway will work very hard to stop Limerick's passing flow and force them to go long.

Limerick have an excellent target man in Gearóid Hegarty but they won't want to be dragged into a Route 1-type approach after getting so much joy off their new system all year. They know it's the best way to get over the line tomorrow.

3 TEAM PREPARATIONS AND TACTICS

Limerick have had a week longer than Galway to prepare for the final, but I don't think that makes much difference.

Obviously, Galway would have liked another week to give Gearóid McInerney and John Hanbury more recovery time, but you have to play the hand you're dealt.

Both sides are well off on the leadership front, but the difference is that Galway's big figures are more experienced at this level.

They showed it in the last three games when Kilkenny and Clare (twice) wiped out big leads and put themselves in a position to win. Joe Canning's point from a sideline cut just after Aron Shanagher came within inches of scoring a Clare goal late in the replay was a perfect example of the sort of leadership required at this level.

Limerick had it too when Cork appeared to have beaten them in the other semi-final.

4 MIND GAMES

If Clare had beaten Galway in the drawn semi-final, much would have been made about their slow return for the second half. It would have been seen as a clever ploy which gave them the initiative.

Galway got all the praise for winning the replay, but would it be a Clare-Limerick final if Aron Shanagher had converted the goal chance late on? Quite probably.

The winners are always seen as getting things right, even when the margins are really tight. Huge significance is attached to small details when, in fact, they didn't matter in the slightest.

You can have all the tactics and mind games you like, but what really matters is what's going on in each player's head.

In terms of overall talent, there's very little between teams at this level, so games are usually decided by whichever side gets more players playing well on an individual level.

Clever ploys and intricate set-ups are all well and good, but a faulty touch, a missed clearance or an unlucky deflection can still cost a team three goals.

Mind games are best kept to a minimum. Keep players' heads as free as possible from complications, allowing them to concentrate on getting their own game right.

5 THE X-FACTOR

In my earlier days as manager, I picked up some advice from the late Johnny Clifford, one of the shrewdest hurling men ever to come of Cork or anywhere else either.

I asked him what he regarded as the most important things to get right and here was his reply. "Get a good goalkeeper, make sure your defence do the basics well, don't concede frees and have a reliable free-taker so that when the opposition foul, you punish them."

All very simple and so very smart. There's so much you can't legislate for, so you have to let it happen.

One thing both sets of supporters would like to see is more risks being taken close to the opposition goal.

'Take your point' is very much the in thing nowadays, even when teams should be more adventurous. The great Kilkenny team were deadly at goalscoring, even off half-chances.

It was x-factor stuff at its most valuable and, as a Galway man, I would love to see them take more risks in the attacking zone.

An x-factor which neither side can control hinges on how the referee performs. James Owens is one of the better referees but I have to say it's off a fairly low base as the overall standard is poor and showing no signs of getting batter.

And the winners? It's Galway for the two-in-a-row.

John Mullane

THE scene is set and a county expects.

Galway, under the astute guidance of Micheál Donoghue, find themselves on the brink of history.

At Croke Park tomorrow, they can become the first team from the county since Cyril Farrell's 1987-'88 vintage to win back-to-back All-Ireland senior hurling titles. Their opponents are a hungry Limerick, who have already tasted the feeling of victory over Galway in 2018.

But this is different. This is All-Ireland hurling final Sunday and Galway have been here before.

They've experienced joy and despair, reached the highest heights and sunk to the lowest of lows.

And that invaluable experience in pressure situations gives them the edge in the mental stakes, while they also have more x-factor players who can make the difference.

1 GALWAY'S STRENGTHS

I've touched on many of Galway's strengths previously, but they're worth reiterating. They have a fantastic spine right up the centre of the team - Dáithí Burke, Gearóid McInerney, David Burke, Joe Canning and Johnny Glynn. These five, along with classy hurlers on the wings, really define why Galway are champions and unbeaten in the championship since losing the 2016 semi-final against Tipperary.

They have a massive aerial presence and they can win their own ball even if it's often in 2-v-1 or 4-v-2 situations.

They have that option of going long to Glynn on the edge of the opposition square and he's flanked by two other big men - Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney.

This could well be the winning of the game tomorrow because the Galway full-forward line do have the aerial advantage over the Limerick full-backs.

Gearóid McInerney is due to start and that gives manager Micheál Donoghue more options off the bench. And it was the Galway bench that won the 2017 final against Waterford.

In Joe Canning, they have a leader in the same mould as Henry Shefflin in his pomp for Kilkenny.

You just know that Joe will deliver an 8/10 performance on final day. His high conversion rate on frees and '65s is crucial and his ability to land some massive sideline cuts is another big trump card for Galway.

2 GALWAY'S WEAKNESSES

Galway are not as fresh coming into this final, compared to 12 months ago.

They're after having the tougher schedule to get here and they really were on the ropes against Clare and offered the Banner County opportunities that they hadn't been offering teams last year, or even early in the Leinster round-robin phase.

There are areas in defence that Limerick can expose and get joy from.

If Gearóid McInerney is passed fit to play, Limerick can target a player who may not be 100 per cent right within himself.

Galway have hit the ground running in the majority of their games but they have a habit of leaving teams back in.

And you just wonder how they'd react if they fell behind early on this time.

Limerick have shown huge mental strength to overcome deficits against Cork and Kilkenny and if they're in the hunt down the home straight, their bench and the 16th man that is their huge support might not be as kind to Galway as Clare were on both days.

3 TEAM PREPARATIONS AND TACTICS

Both camps will have put in massive preparation ahead of this game - but there's not much that they don't know about each other.

Both teams operate to an almost identical style of play, deploying deep-lying half-forward lines and leaving green grass in front of their inside men.

They'll mirror each other with lots of bodies around the middle third of the field but I don't see Galway giving up the same amount of that green grass that Kilkenny and Cork afforded Limerick.

Both half-back lines go out so far and then pass on their markers to their half-forwards, which sees them then operate with zonal markers to cut down on space.

That's where Galway have the luxury of going long to Johnny Glynn and this could be the difference between the two sides.

Barry Coughlan did a fantastic job on Glynn in last year's final. Barry was only interested in going out and stopping Glynn, using some of those defensive dark arts at full-back and making himself a nuisance.

If Mikey Casey or Richie English don't go down the same route, Glynn could wreak havoc.

4 MIND GAMES

Having experienced the highs of winning an All-Ireland final, and the lows of losing some, Galway have seen it all.

They'll have learned from past failures what to do, and what not to do. The emphasis will have been on following the routine that proved so effective last year but for Limerick this is a whole new ball game.

Galway now want to emulate the back-to-back winning teams of 1987/'88 and manager Micheál Donoghue will have been banging the euphoria drum in recent days.

He'll have asked his players if they want that feeling again, or the feeling of devastation that comes with losing a final.

In the first 20 minutes, I expect Galway to ask serious questions of a Limerick team who will probably be experiencing some nerves.

As much as John Kiely and his Limerick management team will have everything spot on, and they've done a magnificent job to date, nothing can prepare them for what lies in store when the whistle blows at 3.30.

Even before, there's the pre-match protocol to negotiate - getting it right in the dressing room, the warm-up, meeting the President, the parade, the full house, the churning stomachs.

Galway have the edge in this regard - they know what final day is all about.

5 THE X-FACTOR

Galway have it all over the field - and players who revel in big games.

They have good man-markers in Pádraic Mannion and Adrian Tuohey, two superb options at numbers 3 and 6, Johnny Coen dove-tailing brilliantly with a superb captain in David Burke at midfield, Joe Canning conducting the orchestra at number 11, with two hard-working wing-forwards alongside him, plus man-mountain Johnny Glynn on the edge of the square and flanked by Conor Cooney and Conor Whelan.

Galway know how to win dirty and how to win pretty, the sign of true champions. They have Seán Loftus, Jason Flynn, Niall Burke and Paul Killeen sitting on the bench and itching for the chance to come in and do a job.

The x-factor is all over the pitch for the Tribesmen - and on the bench.

Irish Independent

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