Hayes: Tribesmen must reinvent themselves to keep dream alive
Galway hurlers' two-in-a-row ambitions hinge on whether they bring more variation to their game in Sunday's semi-final replay with Clare, according to the last man to take the Liam MacCarthy Cup across the Shannon in successive seasons.
Conor Hayes, who captained Galway to All-Ireland glory in 1987 and '88, spotted some worrying signs in Croke Park last Saturday, but expects the problems to be sorted out by Sunday.
"They need to reinvent themselves a small bit," said Hayes. "They dealt very well with the sweeper system against Wexford but didn't get to grips with the way Colm Galvin played it the last day. They'll need to be ready for that if Clare go with it again.
"Also, there needs to be more variation in their game. They need to make Clare think more about what's coming next. After the first 20 minutes last Saturday, Clare figured it out and were a different side."
With injury doubts over several Galway players, there are particular concerns about centre-back Gearóid McInerney.
He was replaced last Saturday by Paul Killeen, who is more accustomed to the inside line, so it's by no means certain that he will be handed the No 6 jersey if McInerney is ruled out.
There's growing speculation that wing-forward Joseph Cooney will be relocated to defence, with Jason Flynn starting in attack.
Alternatively, Pádraig Mannion could switch from wing-back to centre-back, with Killeen or Seán Loftus playing at No 5.
"Cooney has experience of playing in the backs so it wouldn't be a big surprise to see him there if McInerney is ruled out. Galway were very lucky on the injury front last year and indeed this year too, but the test could now be coming on how they cope without a key player," said Hayes.
They finished last Saturday without five of last year's All-Ireland-winning side in a game where real doubts were raised about their capacity to deliver the two-in-a-row.
Hayes added: "They looked a bit jaded near the end. Obviously, they are fit enough physically, but when you've been on the go a long time, you can get mentally tired. It looked as if some of them were hit by that last Saturday.
"It could be completely different the next day, just as it was against Kilkenny in the Leinster final replay. Kilkenny disrupted them all over the place in the drawn game but Galway were completely different next time, even if they did make it hard on themselves after a great start."
Having recovered from an early nine-point deficit last Saturday to take the game to extra-time, where they forced a late equaliser, Clare will feel that the psychological edge now rests with them. Hayes believes that will only become relevant if Galway engage them on their terms, rather than setting their own agenda.
"Galway need to bring more variation to their play. For example, they were fairly one-dimensional on their own puck-outs so Clare knew what to expect. Clare mopped up for much of the second half, in particular.
"Galway will have studied last Saturday's game in detail and I would expect them to ask different types of questions this time. Other than the first quarter, they didn't play with anything like their usual fluency.
"Clare made it hard for them, but Galway have figured a way around problems like that before. For whatever reason, they found it very hard this time," said Hayes.
Despite the Tribesmen's success rate since spring 2017, their goal rate remains surprisingly low. Apart from the opening game in the Leinster round-robin against Offaly, when they scored five goals, their return this summer has been poor for a strike-force of such talent. They have scored four goals in their last six games, having hit only two in five outings in last year's championship.
Their prolific point-scoring has more than compensated, but creating and finishing goal chances is still an area they can improve on.
"The system they play is more geared to scoring points and, in fairness, they are very good at it. You would still like to see them scoring more goals.
"Conor Whelan is a very good finisher but he is often well away from the goal and out on the wing when he gets the ball. Playing Joe Canning in around goal - even for 10 minutes here and there - would also ask different questions of defences too," said Hayes.
Despite Galway's difficulties last Saturday, he expects them to book a clash with Limerick on August 19.
"As with the Leinster final, they got a warning. They have had a week to re-group and re-evaluate and will have used it well. If they get their own game back on track, they should be OK," he said.