Saturday 17 November 2018

Fade-outs threaten double dreams

Tribesmen have had some superb spells but gave Clare and Kilkenny chances they shouldn't have had

Shane O’Donnell celebrates after scoring Clare’s first goal against Galway which gave them a route back into their All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane O’Donnell celebrates after scoring Clare’s first goal against Galway which gave them a route back into their All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Sportsfile

Martin Breheny

John Kiely described it as "the biggest result we have had to date", before quickly wrapping the success in the context of a cold March day.

"Will it count for much next July? Probably not, but in the overall sense, it's a big boost for us. That inner doubt is definitely going," he said.

He was speaking in Pearse Stadium five months ago after Limerick's victory over Galway ensured a return to the top flight of the Allianz League for the first time since 2010.

It had also sentenced Galway to a third successive season in 1B, scarcely a spirit-crushing blow, but still not what the All-Ireland champions wanted out of the league. While the result was hugely significant for Limerick, the manner of their two-point victory (2-18 to 1-19) attracted an added bonus which may be important from a psychological viewpoint next Sunday.

Galway led by 1-13 to 1-4 after 28 minutes, but lost the rest of the game to by 1-14 to 0-6, a turnaround that Micheál Donoghue put down to Limerick's efficiency and "a poor day at the office" by his team.

Limerick, who had looked exceptionally well-tuned ever since their opening Munster League game in early January, were more advanced with their training programme than Galway, so nobody was greatly surprised by the result.

But losing by 1-14 to 0-6 at home over the final 42 minutes? It just didn't fit right for All-Ireland and league champions.

Five months later, Galway re-engage with Limerick for the ultimate prize, knowing that the league game played an important part in accelerating the maturity process for Kiely's young squad.

Galway have first-hand knowledge of how a season can sometimes turn on one result, having experienced it last season in broadly similar circumstances to Limerick this year.

Indeed, it's enough to send a shiver down Galway spines as they consider the possibility of history repeating itself, albeit not in their favour this time.

Galway trailed Waterford by ten points in the third quarter-final of last year's league quarter-final before staging a spirited recovery which steered them to a three-point win.

It launched Galway's season in spectacular style as they went on to win the league and All-Ireland titles, the latter coming at Waterford's expense in the final.

Now, it's Limerick's turn to try and emulate Galway's progress last year, culminating in a repeat of their league success in the All-Ireland final. The manner of their confidence-boosting recovery will certainly help if they find themselves facing a sizeable lead at any stage on Sunday.

Advantages

Conversely, Galway will recall how Limerick held their nerve when faced with a mountainous challenge.

The same applied to Kilkenny and Clare (twice), both of whom wiped out big Galway leads this summer. Ultimately, Galway survived all three rebellions, but a failure to fully exploit considerable advantages has to be of concern to them.

It's not a new phenomenon either - indeed there are several examples of how it hit them over the last six years - so opposition have now become emboldened into believing that even if they are facing a big deficit against Galway, it can be taken on with a fair degree of confidence.

The big difference between Galway this year and previous seasons is that, having surrendered big leads, they held their nerve and went on to either win or draw. Nonetheless, the question persists as to why, after periods of total dominance, they are prone to losing control to such an alarming degree.

The league clash with Limerick was the first manifestation of the malfunction this year and it returned against Kilkenny in the Leinster final replay when, after leading by 1-15 to 0-6 in the 33rd minute, they found themselves only a point ahead at the three-quarter stage.

Their response was impressive, winning the final quarter 0-8 to 0-2, but it's still difficult to understand why they struggled so badly during their down time, during which they were outscored by 3-7 to 0-5. It was much the same against Clare in the drawn semi-final when, after building up a nine-point lead after 16 minutes, they were outscored 0-8 to 0-1 over the next 17 minutes.

Galway also led by nine points after 21 minutes in the replay, but had the margin cut to a single point at the three-quarter stage, an advantage they enjoyed at the finish after both scored four more points.

In total, Galway had combined leads of 30 points either cut to one or wiped out altogether, which is surely unprecedented for All-Ireland finalists.

Of course they will be greatly encouraged by the manner in which they accumulated those leads and how they responded to the challenges when they surrendered them.

Irish Independent

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