Sunday 17 December 2017

Galway take giant strides forward in a game of inches

The Galway six foot club - tale of the tape
The Galway six foot club - tale of the tape
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

For years Brian Cody's Kilkenny not only turned out the best hurling teams but also the biggest. At least that was the impression.

When Galway bullied them out of Croke Park in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final, an analysis Cody has put forward himself, it helped to shape his thinking about future preparations. And, clearly, team selections.

From then on Cody teams packed a more powerful punch and by the following year players like 6'4" Martin Comerford were being integrated.

Invariably, Kilkenny enjoyed aerial advantage in games and often tailored their approach for those conditions. But, in truth, they thrived in any set of conditions as the years pushed on.

Their dimensions determined that the all-conquering 2006-2009 team was one of the biggest on top of their supremacy. James Ryall, Jackie Tyrrell, John Tennyson, Richie Power and Michael Fennelly, despite his peripheral role, all brought a significant size element to what Henry Shefflin, Derek Lyng and Comerford already provided.

But for size, certainly in terms of height, there probably hasn't been a tale of the tape quite like this Galway hurling team, even allowing for players to add an extra inch for effect here and there when compiling profiles.

They haven't always used it to their advantage and there are plenty of cynical views around that they are no bigger than last year or the year before. Why, suddenly, is it such a factor?

But the body of evidence is there to suggest that they are now making it count more effectively.

Micheál Donoghue could field an attacking sextet of six-footers if he so chooses. That would require sidelining Conor Whelan who measures just below that mark (according to match programme stats) but given his rich vein of form he's likely to be among the first names on Donoghue's team sheet.

But Joseph Cooney (6'4"), Jason Flynn (6'4"), Conor Cooney (6'2"), Joe Canning (6'2"), Cathal Mannion (6'1") and Niall Burke (6'0") could provide unprecedented collective elevation up front if played together.

Simplistic

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan knows that there is much more than size to their league final conquerors, noting this week how it was "too simplistic to say they're just a big team."

"They don't just puck the ball in on top of the square or the half-forward line and hope it gets won. There's much more to them than that," he observed.

Galway's double All-Ireland winning centre-back, Tony Keady, has seen enough evidence this year that their team is making the most of their extra inches.

"You'll always look to a fella when he's big. Some lads that are very big can't hurl. There's a slow go to them. But every one of these guys are able to hurl and can produce it," said Keady.

"Even against Wexford I couldn't believe the amount of aerial possession that they won. Tipp have it too. It's something that they have worked on as well. If they don't catch it they can bring it down. And they're fit. The way they can move, the speed they can generate."

Keady is also looking forward to the battle between Tipperary centre-forward Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Galway centre-back Gearóid McInerney, son of his former half-back colleague Gerry. "There'll be no one lying down there, I'll tell you," he predicted.

McInerney's establishment at centre-back with Daithi Burke's consistency in at full-back are other big factors for Keady.

"Daithi Burke has proven it time and again. Everything is safe when he gets it in his hand. He doesn't even use the hurl. He comes that yard and give that hand pass.

"Gearóid is after turning his career (around) in the last year or so. He was up in the forwards, he was wing-back, left on the line and faced questions as to whether he was any good. That's how people were talking about him. Now he's in the most important place on the field," noted Keady.

On a separate issue Keady hopes to see Waterford's Tadhg De Búrca feature in next week's semi-final, arguing that there was no intent in his alleged pull on Harry Kehoe's face guard.

"I've seen it time and again that helmets are always opening. The one good thing he has on his side is that the helmet never came off the head. If it came off the head, there shouldn't even be a meeting.

"I've watched it so often. Harry Kehoe tried to block his path and De Búrca tried to get inside him. For a man to train for over a year to get there not to be able to play for something like that, I hope whatever committee it is next (CAC) see sense."

Irish Independent

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