Friday 15 December 2017

Cyril Farrell: It’s now or never for Galway’s All-Ireland bid as jigsaw pieces start to fit

Galway's Aidan Harte. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Galway's Aidan Harte. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

The missing pieces of the Galway jigsaw look like they have finally been found and if this particular group are ever going to win an All-Ireland title, this is the year.

It may only be a league title, but this could be the making of them. A loss would have been a big body blow as they're five or six years together with little silverware to show for their efforts, but a big win will strengthen their resolve.

With Dáithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney dominating the central positions in a compact defence, they have all the key ingredients to reach the summit. Galway's forwards will always score enough to win most games no matter who they play but they look to have really shored things up at the back.

Markers were laid down all over the pitch early on and it's clear that Galway have put massive work into the strength and conditioning side of things because they bullied Tipperary and showed a new-found steel.

Galway's David Burke. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Galway's David Burke. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It was like boys versus men last week against Limerick and while it wasn't half as obvious against Tipp yesterday, Galway now have all the physical attributes combined with the skill to outfox the best the game has to offer. They were throwing in big body tackles everywhere, hooking and blocking and getting in Tipp's faces from start to finish; rarely did a Tipp man have a second on the ball. They were hounded and harassed and Galway were defiant.

The brilliance of David Burke  in midfield helped break the stranglehold which Tipp have had in that sector and with the game plan ensuring that Tipp's half-back line was held at all costs, they expertly stopped the supply lines.

Cathal Mannion might not have shot the lights out on the scoreboard but he kept Pádraic Maher, Tipp's inspiration, out of the game while Conor Whelan's harrying of Seamus Kennedy underneath the stand in the second half summed up the day. Galway didn't take a backward step.

This group are in the prime of their careers and while their quality has never been called into question, their character certainly has. They'll have to be careful to not lose the run of themselves, but they now have a potent mixture of talent and charismatic leaders.

Joe Canning has always showed the way but the likes of Aidan Harte and Joseph Cooney, amongst many others, have stepped up to the plate and if they can handle the huge expectations, it could be a career-defining year for them.

They were always a confident group and this will make them believe that they can cut loose on any side.

It was impossible to envisage Tipp being beaten by that much so this is a great fillip for Galway and their squad is getting better all the time with massive competition for places.

The likes of John Hanbury played all the league and didn't start yesterday while Johnny Glynn and Cyril Donnellan made their returns (and Conor Cooney didn't feature). The great thing is that there isn't much difference between who's on and off and that depth can only benefit them.

It's also a big win for Micheál Donoghue. There's a lot of pressure at home in Galway with lads saying, 'How did he get the job?' and even though he didn't get out of Division 1B, maybe it's easier to win from the second tier because you haven't had the hard battles early in the year.

Donoghue, Noel Larkin and Franny Forde have been around the block at club level and with various underage county teams so they have a lot of experience and will keep Galway heads on the ground because summer and Liam MacCarthy has always been the ultimate goal.

They should be very wary of Dublin in the Leinster SHC, however, as they're training the last few weeks with only Galway on their minds. It's much better winning than losing the league final though and I can see the whole life changing in Galway, supporters will start believing more and more and that'll feed into the players.

Tipp were unusually flat with someone suggesting yesterday that if they were a horse they'd be penalised under the Non-Triers rule, but maybe all the hype after putting up big scores took a mental toll while the tougher games surely took the physical edge off them.

It just shows how hard it is to put a league and championship honours together, and heightens respect for Kilkenny's achievements since the Millennium, but Tipp will take their beating and with Seamus Callanan and 'Bonner' Maher to return, they'll be all guns blazing for Cork next month in Munster.

As for Galway, this is their best chance to go the whole way because they have the personnel, the physical attributes and, most importantly, the skill to do it. It's now or never - this has to be their year. And it just might be.

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