Sunday 26 January 2020

John Mullane: Clare must bring the unexpected to knock champions off their stride

Key to Banner victory is to play it quick and smart - and get their match-ups right - because a physical battle would suit Donoghue's Galway down to the ground

Padraic Mannion (L) was asked to pick up Clare’s Tony Kelly during their 2016 quarter-final and the Galway man held Kelly to one point from play. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Padraic Mannion (L) was asked to pick up Clare’s Tony Kelly during their 2016 quarter-final and the Galway man held Kelly to one point from play. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

John Mullane

Think of Clare and Galway championship meetings and we recall the Ger Loughnane years, Cyril Lyons and the Banner men plotting a quarter-final ambush in 2002, and more recent meetings in 2013 and 2016.

In 2002, Galway were heavy favourites, having contested an All-Ireland final the previous September.

Adrian Tuohy shadowed Podge Collins everywhere he went. We can expect a similar Galway plan today. Photo ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Adrian Tuohy shadowed Podge Collins everywhere he went. We can expect a similar Galway plan today. Photo ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

They were talked up as potential winners again but Clare took them out.

Five years ago, the counties met again at the same stage of the All-Ireland series.

In a similar vein, Galway had been finalists in the previous campaign but the spoils went to Clare again and this was the game that propelled them to September glory.

Davy Fitzgerald's tactical nous and the introduction of the sweeper caught Galway cold that day. They had no answer and the Clare set-up more or less nullified the influence of Joe Canning.

Gearóid McInerney picked up John Conlon in 2016 and the Galway centreback may well shift
to the flank again today, this time to try and keep Peter Duggan quiet. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Gearóid McInerney picked up John Conlon in 2016 and the Galway centreback may well shift to the flank again today, this time to try and keep Peter Duggan quiet. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Galway went back to the drawing board but when the counties met in a 2016 quarter-final, the roles were reversed.

After under-achieving in the Leinster final, Galway hit back with a bang to take Clare out.

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Catapult

And while the Tribesmen would fall short by just a point against Tipp in an All-Ireland semi-final, I pinpoint that Clare game as the catapult to eventual success last year. I'll explain why.

It was the match that laid the foundations for Micheál Donoghue and this Galway team.

The 2016 quarterfinal between Galway and Clare was the game that laid the foundations for Micheál Donoghue and his Tribesmen. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
The 2016 quarterfinal between Galway and Clare was the game that laid the foundations for Micheál Donoghue and his Tribesmen. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

He won the tactical battle with Fitzgerald, which was no easy thing, and it was positional switches and match-ups that swung it in Galway's favour.

Padraic Mannion was asked to pick up Tony Kelly and Adrian Tuohy, a virtual newcomer who wouldn't have been known to many outside of Galway, tracked Podge Collins wherever he went.

Fast-forward to now and we have more or less the same personnel on both teams, as we look forward to what should be an enthralling semi-final at Croke Park later today.

Donoghue will surely consider similar jobs for Mannion and Tuohy, when you consider that Kelly and Collins were both class in the victory over Wexford.

Look back to that 2016 game and you'll see that Kelly only managed a point from play and Collins was subbed after Tuohy shadowed him for the best part of 50 minutes.

At that time, Collins was trying to juggle hurling and football. In fact, he'd played a football game the previous day and surely that caught up with him.

I'm still expecting these duels to play out again, with Tuohy prepared to go out as far as midfield with Collins.

Likewise, Mannion should be Kelly's companion for the day in whatever position he trots into, with the exception of midfield.

In the 2016 game, Donoghue started Joe Canning at midfield, with David Burke at number 11.

Those moves threw Davy Fitz and how can we forget Joe landing in at full-forward for the start of the second half, and scoring a super goal?

Joe was on Conor Cleary that day and dictated the game.

It wasn't until later in the game when Davy put David McInerney on Joe that the Galway talisman's influence reduced.

Today, it's critical that Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor designate McInerney in a man-marking role from the off, with Cleary moving back to number 3.

Johnny Glynn didn't play two years ago and Cleary might actually be more suited to compete with the Galway man-mountain in the air, which would release McInerney to track Canning.

Whatever happens, the Clare management have to be ready for what comes at them from the word go.

Donoghue, as we've seen over the last 12 months, is not only a very good manager but he's tactically astute and very good at throwing in the unexpected from the off.

It's the unexpected that Moloney and O'Connor have to bring to the table and for me, it's how they take down Canning, Gearóid McInerney, Daithí Burke (if fit), David Burke and Glynn down the centre.

Those guys are Galway's launchpad, from Daithí Burke at full-back through to Glynn on the edge of the opposition square.

If Burke starts, and the rumour is that he's carrying an ankle injury, it will be some battle between himself and Clare's John Conlon, who's enjoying a terrific summer.

Conlon will be ready to go and his battle with Wexford's Liam Ryan has primed him for the Galway challenge.

Conlon started at wing-forward two years ago and was picked up by Gearóid McInerney.

That suggests to me that Donoghue might consider pushing McInerney across to the flank again, to compete with Peter Duggan.

But Clare can upset Donoghue and Galway's plans by starting Tony Kelly at midfield on Johnny Coen. The question then, of course, is who's going to take down David Burke?

Clare have named Colm Galvin and Cathal Malone at midfield. Who they employ to take on Burke will have a huge impact on the game.

Bench

The Clare team was named during the week and Conor McGrath could only find a place on the bench.

I'd find a home for him in the team, to be honest, because if Kelly and Collins are being man-marked wherever they go, there's space elsewhere for the likes of Shane O'Donnell, David Reidy and Conlon.

McGrath's movement and game intelligence would have troubled McInerney and Aidan Harte in the Galway half-back line - and I'd have started McGrath in the Clare half-forward division.

With other players tied up, this would have been the ideal scenario for McGrath to come in and float around that area.

If that happened, you could have seen O'Donnell really open up.

As we saw against Wexford, the 2013 hero has gone back to playing his natural game.

He's not hand-passing, it's more keeping defenders guessing whether or not he's going to lay off the ball.

This is a guy who can drop the shoulder and get in for a score and he could cause Galway problems.

Clare have to be cute and smart, and use every inch of Croke Park.

They need to stick to their natural game and deviating from it will spell trouble.

Play through the channels with those 30-40 yard stick passes, and work the ball out of defence.

The one thing that Kilkenny didn't do in both of their games with Galway, and a tactic we saw from them during the league, was using goalkeeper Eoin Murphy to go short and work the ball out.

But Clare will do this.

It's how the management team want them to play.

They've nurtured some of these guys from underage to here. This style is ingrained in their DNA.

What we shouldn't forget either is that Clare have gone toe-to-toe twice with Tipperary in the space of 12 months in championship hurling.

Tipp won one but Clare caught them in Thurles this summer.

When you consider that Tipp and Galway's three All-Ireland semi-finals in recent years have been won by a point either way, Clare's management team should be hammering this home to their players.

This semi-final is not as clear-cut as many are making it out to be.

The 'derby' element is there and Clare have a decent record against Galway.

As I know only too well, winning semi-finals is almost more difficult than winning a final - my record of one win in eight attempts will bear that out.

However, when I watched that 2016 game between Galway and Clare back again, what struck me was how much Galway have evolved in terms of their hurling and sheer physicality.

If there's one game to contrast then and now, that's the one.

Clare simply can't afford to bring the ball into physical contact because there will be only one winner.

But if they're fast, smart, and play through the channels and maximise this pitch, they have a chance to upset the odds.

Still, it's Galway by a couple of points for me. I'm anticipating a very tight encounter and Galway will have to call upon all of their battling qualities to see them into another final - their third in four years.

I'm predicting that their opponents will be Limerick, who meet Cork tomorrow.

I'm in the gantry for this one and I just get the feeling that there's more at stake for Cork.

For many of the Limerick lads, it's their first experience of a semi-final and it looks like there will be more to come.

But for some of the Cork players on the opposite end of the age spectrum, they'll feel the time has to be now.

Limerick have no baggage, no fear, and I like what they're doing.

Limerick last contested a semi-final four years ago, losing narrowly to Kilkenny.

A year previous, they couldn't manage a long lay-off between the Munster final and the All-Ireland semi-final - and they paid the price against Clare.

Cork don't have a great record in recent All-Ireland semi-finals either.

Waterford caught them last year and they didn't back up a Munster final win in 2014.

Something's got to give and I think Limerick are ready now. They have momentum behind them following that epic victory over Kilkenny.

To finish up, I have to mention the case of Waterford camogie goalkeeper Brianna O'Regan.

She was sent off against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland championship for what was admittedly a high tackle.

Brianna was left with no option but to take down her opponent, who was through one on one.

No arguments with the red card but it's since emerged that Brianna picked up a three-match ban for this offence.

That's ludicrous, when you see some of the stuff that's going on in the men's code, at club and inter-county level.

One-match suspensions seem to be the norm but this girl got three?

In this case, the punishment does not fit the crime and it's a huge shame at a time when the Waterford camogie team are making waves.

I've seen other, more serious offences given lesser punishments and I don't think that handing out three-match bans is the right way to promote the game.

I've taken a keen interest in this Waterford camogie team and the profile of the game has most certainly been raised in recent times.

But this is wrong and from what I can gather, Brianna is heartbroken over it.

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