Saturday 17 November 2018

Galway's going-for-goal approach can yield dividends against Cats, and beyond

Galway's Daithí Burke. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Galway's Daithí Burke. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Martin Breheny

Who's better primed? Kilkenny facing their third championship test in a fortnight or Galway, whose last outing was 15 days earlier?

At face value, it's Galway, but since they weren't really stretched by Offaly, there's no clear insight into exactly where they stand. Indeed, they have done little so far this year to underline their status as All-Ireland champions.

They failed their only two real tests - against Limerick in the 1B promotion shoot-out and against Wexford in the quarter-final. Their supporters ignored those setbacks, convinced that all would come right for the championship.

Still, it has to be accepted that the attempt to retain the league title was poor. All was forgiven, of course, as retaining the All-Ireland title is the only target that matters this year.

The first rigorous examination of how prepared they are for that objective comes tomorrow against opposition that always provides the ultimate test. Galway certainly know all about Kilkenny's consistent authority, having beaten them only once (2012 Leinster final) in 12 championship games since 2006. It's very important for Galway to win, not least because defeat would leave them four points behind Kilkenny on the round robin table.

And with Wexford coming up six days later, a setback tomorrow would dramatically change the mood ahead of the trip to Innovate Wexford Park next Saturday.

Defeat there would leave them in real danger of not even finishing in the top three, which is required to continue in the All-Ireland race.

Such negative thoughts are far from their mindset today as they look forward to the historic occasion of a first Leinster Championship game being played west of the Shannon.

That brings its own pressures but it also carries advantages as the Galway crowd should outnumber their Kilkenny counterparts by at least four to one.

Joe Canning and Co need to make that count, turning Pearse Stadium into a maroon-and-white hothouse. Of course, it will take a lot more than that to unsettle Kilkenny but that's where the memory of how Galway performed throughout last year's championship becomes relevant.

Their capacity to rack up large points tallies (they averaged almost 28 in five games) was central to their All-Ireland success as it meant they could survive on a low goal return. They scored two in their opener against Dublin and didn't find the net again.

It was different against Offaly two weeks ago when they scored five goals, but whether that was down to a different approach or the frailties of the opposition is a moot point. "It (low goal rate) was obviously something we were conscious of last year. It wasn't that we weren't creating goal chances," said Micheál Donoghue.

After an uneasy start in the league, Kilkenny's defensive set-up tightened up considerably, but is now facing the highest threat level it has encountered all year.

Galway will certainly test the Kilkenny full-back line for pace if they get a decent supply from further out. Their biggest challenge is on the psychological front where they haven't always coped well against Kilkenny.

Losing big leads and under-performing for long stretches has been a regular feature of Galway performances against Kilkenny but those were before they finally broke the All-Ireland hoodoo.

Now, they are champions and being asked to perform as such. They know they are good enough to beat any opposition on a given day and they need to make that sense of confidence count tomorrow.

If they do, they can win what may well be the first of two Galway-Kilkenny clashes in five weeks.

Irish Independent

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