Wednesday 22 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Cunningham needs ruthless cull in defence if Galway are to catch up with Kilkenny

Anthony Cunningham, Galway manager, shakes hands with Brian Cody
Anthony Cunningham, Galway manager, shakes hands with Brian Cody

Cyril Farrell

It would be easy to devote this entire piece to marvelling at the wonders of Kilkenny and how they continue to thrive year after year.

There's no point in doing that, although you do have to acknowledge the players' incredible achievements and the genius of Brian Cody.

The package is awesome - superb at what it does on match day, yet so grounded and modest off the pitch.

Kilkenny's aura works in two ways. It helps them believe that whatever shape a game takes, they will mould it in their direction, and it puts doubts into opposition minds.

Take last Sunday. After leading Galway by four points in the 15th minute, Kilkenny were outscored by 0-7 to 0-1 over the next 12 minutes. That was an unfamiliar experience but their response was calm and calculated. They won the next 32 minutes by 0-12 to 0-4.

Galway - and indeed the other contenders - can spend all the time they like analysing how that happened but the answer will come up the same.

Kilkenny simply do things better than the opposition. That, plus their self-belief and the opposition's insecurity, makes them the force they are.

The question everyone else has to ask themselves is why Kilkenny do things better than them? Obviously, it has a lot to with the available talent but there's nothing the opposition can do about that. There is, however, plenty they can do to give themselves the best possible chance of beating Kilkenny.

The first requirement is to get in against them as often as possible in the All-Ireland semi-final or final.

So let's start with Galway. The target for 2016 must be to build solidly on this year. That certainly didn't happen after they lost the 2012 final replay to Kilkenny.

In fact, Galway's only wins in the 2013 and 2014 championships were against Laois. Could that happen again?

Of course, unless everything is done right to make sure that it doesn't.

Who would have thought when Clare won the 2013 All-Ireland that they would win only one Championship game over the next two seasons? They didn't even get on to the same pitch as Kilkenny.

Tipperary came very close to beating Kilkenny in last year's final but didn't get a shot at them this year. Galway have to start planning now for next year. They need to find something extra, so there can be no delay.

Anthony Cunningham and Co have to scour the club scene - at all grades - checking for players who, with the right coaching, can make a difference.

The management must also make hard decisions. They need to look at every player and ask: can we win an All-Ireland next year with him aboard?

I recall sitting down with Phelim Murphy and Bernie O'Connor in 1986 after Galway had lost two successive All-Ireland finals. We had lost League and Oireachtas finals too in 1986 so Galway were seen as serial flops.

Yet, over the next two seasons, we won successive All-Ireland titles, plus League and Railway Cup (as Connacht) titles. So things can be turned around but it often involves hard and unpopular calls.

We made decisions about some players that we stuck with, even when there were times when we looked to be wrong.

However, we refused to forget the experiences of 1985-86. Cunningham, who is doing a very good job overall, must be ruthless and act similarly now.

For a start, he needs to be able to pick players in defence and midfield, in particular, and trust them to be up to the job, irrespective of who they are up against.

Galway are big into match-ups, because they don't trust some of their players against certain opponents. You can't have that. You've got to choose your defence and midfield as a unit that doesn't have to be switched around because of the opposition.

Cody didn't move Joey Holden or Kieran Joyce out of the central defence because of the opponents. He picks his team, trusts them and says to the opposition: have a go at that.

That's what Galway need to copy. If a player has to be moved out of a position because of who he might be marking, then he's not good enough. That might sound harsh but it's the reality. You can't compromise on that and hope to get away with it.

You don't win the All-Ireland from the middle ground. If those hard calls are made and Galway work on what they've got, the drought will end quickly enough.

Galway minors' win lifted some of the gloom out west. Jeffrey Lynskey and his selectors ran a brilliant campaign. They had a hard act to follow after Mattie Murphy's great innings but they did it very well.

Lynskey said afterwards that their brief was to improve the players so that they would eventually be good enough to play for the seniors and that any titles that came along in the meantime would be a bonus. It was a smart assessment.

With the minor title going to Galway and the senior to Kilkenny, Limerick's success in the U-21 final on Saturday means that All-Ireland crowns have gone to three provinces this year. It's a good spread at the end of what was a very interesting season.

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