Monday 17 June 2019

Galway played like champions and maturity makes Donoghue's men favourites for final

Joe Canning of Galway speaks to his team-mates in the final seconds of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final replay match between Galway and Clare at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary.
Joe Canning of Galway speaks to his team-mates in the final seconds of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final replay match between Galway and Clare at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Cyril Farrell

This wasn't Galway at their best, but it was enough. In the end, that's all Micheál Donoghue will care about as he starts planning for the All-Ireland final.

His side played well enough to win, but the day to produce a complete performance will be Sunday week, when they'll need all their energy restored to retain the title.

They played like champions yesterday, getting the odd point here and there and holding their composure at times of peak pressure when Clare were threatening to take over.

In the first half, it was clear they had worked hard on James Skehill's puckouts. They put Joe Canning at wing-forward and Conor Whelan at centre-forward, but had Canning coming very deep along with Cathal Mannion and Conor Cooney.

That created a sort of shield across the pitch and they were quite happy to let Clare have the ball in their own half-back and full-back lines - they weren't going to hurt them from there.

Their half-back trio of Aidan Harte, Padraig Mannion and Joseph Cooney worked a charm and dominated the game in that first half.

Clare, meanwhile, made another poor start. They put extra men at the back but for so much of the first half they just hit it deep and Galway mopped it up. Clare played no sweeper early on, and when they did Galway quickly spotted their extra backs so they worked the ball up the pitch and took scores from outside.

In that first half Galway tapped over some lovely scores, using the ball very intelligently. The week before they were hitting it up to land with a crowd underneath it, but this time it was more likely to see a quick puckout from Skehill to Cooney, who'd move it on to Johnny Glynn before Clare even had a chance to get on terms.

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But when Clare got settled they started playing it across the field, moving the ball where they had extra men and working it up slowly, not taking a shot until it was on. They had more composure through the latter part of the second half, which got them back into the game.

It was typical Clare: hanging in and refusing to lie down.

Walking around Thurles yesterday, it was clear this team has re-awoken the spirit of Clare - their support was fantastic and they must have outnumbered Galway by at least two to one.

In the first half they didn't have much to celebrate as Clare hit an awful lot of wides, but in the second they ran at Galway from deep. Ian Galvin and Colm Galvin were cutting through the middle and when he looks back at the game, Donoghue will be examining just how they waltzed up the pitch for the two goals.

Shane O'Donnell showed great composure and footwork for his goal, and for much of the second half he was nearly beating Galway on his own. Peter Duggan's goal came from using his force and strength to open up space, and that's something O'Donoghue will also be addressing: how was he allowed to get through?

Of course, if Aron Shanagher had managed to guide his shot just a few inches over Skehill for that golden goal chance, or indeed an inch or two to the left on the rebound, we'd now be calling Clare finalists, but that's hurling: a game that swings on inches.

For me, two things cost Clare down the stretch. The first was their wide count - 19 in total - and the second was their lack of composure in some key situations. Both of those can be brought about by pressure, which in those final minutes will have been as heavy as anything these lads have felt on a pitch.

In the end, with the game hanging in the balance, Galway showed why they're champions. Those two Clare goals would rock any team, but Galway hung in during that mini-crisis and tagged on vital scores.

Johnny Coen did a lot of work tracking Tony Kelly, sacrificing his own game a bit, but it was an effort that was well worth it in the overall scheme of things.

Canning again had a huge influence and so did Conor Whelan - his pace was electric and he cut through and got scores at vital times.

Last week in extra time Galway had a lot of their leaders off the pitch, but yesterday they had them when it counted, standing up when they were needed.

As a result, they now have a date with Limerick in the final for the first time since 1980, a game I was involved in which holds great memories for me - it was our first win since 1923 and it changed the mindset in Galway hurling, proving to them they were good enough to win.

It's clear this side believes that too, and it's a fantastic achievement to now be going for two in a row.

To me, they're slight favourites over Limerick but they'll have to recover their energy because they've gone through a lot of hard games.

It's clear the team has matured, and so too has the management. Even with the loss of Gearóid McInerney yesterday they made the right calls - such as starting with Niall Burke, who did a lot of hard, rewarding work.

Galway will fancy themselves, going in as champions, but to get past Limerick - who'll be coming in fresh - they'll need to play at the best level we saw yesterday for the full 70 minutes, and maybe even better.

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