Saturday 18 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Galway have the power and the poise to out-manoeuvre Davy's improving forces

The likes of Conor McDonald are well able to win possession and set up Wexford attacks even when they’re out-numbered. Photo: Sportsfile
The likes of Conor McDonald are well able to win possession and set up Wexford attacks even when they’re out-numbered. Photo: Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

If Micheál Donoghue was watching the Lions against the All Blacks last Saturday morning, he would have noticed something that might be useful when planning for Galway in tomorrow's Leinster final.

Before the first test the consensus was that the Lions' best chance of winning rested with the forwards overpowering the All Blacks. The view was that the Lions had an advantage there but what happened?

The All Blacks targeted the Lions pack. Instead of worrying about containing them, they set about knocking them back and forcing them into a different game to what they had in mind. Game over. All Blacks by a mile.

Much of the talk about the Leinster final has centred on how Galway go about counteracting Wexford, who are now operating very much in the image and likeness of Davy Fitz. And very successful it has been too, giving them their best year for a long time with hopes of more to come.

I've known Davy a long time and can say with certainty that he won't be depending on any one plan. Even when he's asleep he's probably dreaming about tactics and systems and formations.

Still, he works off a few core principles, which he has taken from Waterford to Clare to Wexford, refining them as he goes. He certainly likes extra cover in defence, a busy midfield area and forwards who can cope with being outnumbered.

It all comes together with a running game, lads supporting each other at pace. It took Wexford supporters a while to get used to that type of game but winning changes mindsets and they are now delighted with it.

And so they should be. Promotion to 1A, two wins over Kilkenny and a place in the Leinster final is a fair yield in such a short space of time. If Wexford were to take it a step further by beating Galway, Davy will be canonised in the county.

Still, after being so close to the top for so long, it's more important for Galway that they win. The best way for Galway to approach this game is to attack Wexford's strong points. Don't let them set the agenda and instead present them with a new one.

Shaun Murphy has done a good job as sweeper, so make it hard for him. Don't give him handy ball, take him left and right, make him think under pressure, rather than allowing him to mop up and pick out a colleague.

If Wexford are allowed to get that system going, they will make it work. Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and Jack Guiney are well capable of winning possession even when they're outnumbered so Galway need to make sure they restrict both the quantity and quality of possession coming from the Wexford defence.

I would expect the Galway forwards to interchange on a regular basis. Davy will put a special detail on the likes of Joe Canning and Conor Whelan but if Galway use the rotation game cleverly, it will create openings, irrespective of Wexford's system. In other words, Galway should do an All Blacks on it and focus on attacking Wexford's strengths.

If Galway have an extra defender, they will try to make sure it's Aidan Harte. He's having a great year, both defensively and offensively. And Davy won't need any reminding of the damage Harte did in a free role against Clare in last year's quarter-final.

Who would have thought last January that Wexford would beat both Galway and Kilkenny 'away' in the League and then repeat it at home to Cody's boys in the championship?

It shows how far they have come and the journey is far from complete. Their supporters believe that if they can recover from a bad start and still beat Kilkenny, they are ready for just about anything.

It's not that straightforward. The pressure is increasing in line with expectations and since they haven't experienced it before, there's no way to know how they will react.

Galway are further down the road with big-time experience, strength and conditioning etc and appear to have a new-found sense of confidence and well-being.

Having said that, their current status as All-Ireland favourites probably has as much to do with events elsewhere as with a conviction that they won't hit the same barriers that knocked them in previous years.

There's no doubt that Galway will encounter a tighter defensive system than what they experienced against Offaly or Dublin, or indeed against Tipperary in the League final.

Just as Galway will target Wexford's strong points, Davy will have his men primed to knock the Galway attack off their stride. Galway scored 33 points - many from long range - against Offaly, but they won't find nearly as much room in the traffic chaos Wexford will cause in the middle third.

Wexford will seriously trouble Galway but the Bob O'Keeffe Cup is west-bound for a second time.

Irish Independent

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