Saturday 18 August 2018

Galway have been warned - improve or else Banner boys will end your reign

Clare corrected their problems by dropping Colm Galvin back as sweeper. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Clare corrected their problems by dropping Colm Galvin back as sweeper. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Micheál Donoghue were to absorb even a small amount of the analysis from the drawn game, his head would be spinning with details of shapes and sweepers, plays and puck-out strategies, plus a whole lot more modern-day jargon.

Much of it is pure guff, of course, carrying little relevance to such an instinctive game as hurling. But it sounds good so it's here to stay.

According to popular opinion, Galway were out-manoeuvred tactically when, after a great start during which they went nine points clear, Clare corrected their problems by dropping Colm Galvin back as sweeper. Granted, his presence just in front of his full-back line greatly improved Clare's security, but I would argue that the actual move was not the game-changer the commentating pack would have you believe.

Galway's opening blitz owed as much to Clare's sloppy play as it did to brilliant attacking work, Conor Cooney's goal being a clear example when two forwards out-smarted four defenders.

Redeploying Galvin would not have made any significant difference if Clare had continued to struggle individually.

However, they gradually corrected that and once their workrate and passing accuracy improved, it became apparent that when they asked the right questions, Galway struggled to find answers.

It had little to do with shape or systems but rather with a far more fundamental requirement: the ability to win individual battles.

Over the past year, it has become something of a cliché to reference Galway's physical strength as if it gave them a huge advantage.

Yes, they have lots of big men all but it's not as if their rivals are all tiny by comparison.

Galway lost a lot of individual battles last Saturday, especially across the half-forward line in the second half. Size didn't matter, no more than it ever does if it's not accompanied by touch, timing and sheer devilment.

Despite losing more of the primary battles for possession than for quite some time, Galway still had the craft and experience to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Ultimately though, given their overall performance, they had to be happy with a draw.

Galway's rating as hot favourites was based on their status as defending champions as much as anything they had done this year. Yes, they remained unbeaten in Leinster but then it probably wasn't as consistently competitive as Munster. Clare lost twice to Cork but they beat Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick, a triple hit that suggested they were well-equipped for the Galway challenge.

The test for them now is to not only replicate the better parts of last Saturday's performance but build on them.

Galway's injury worries are obviously a concern for Donoghue, but much has been made of the depth of talent in the squad, so now may be the time to test whether it's true or just another popular theory.

That apart, Galway need to win more individual battles. If they do, they will win.

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