Tuesday 23 July 2019

John Mullane: Four factors that will determine crunch All Ireland semi final replay between Galway and Clare

Podge Collins is tackled by Daithi Burke of Galway during last Saturday’s draw in Croke Park – the Clare forward is likely to be shadowed closely by Adrian Tuohy in tomorrow’s replay. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Podge Collins is tackled by Daithi Burke of Galway during last Saturday’s draw in Croke Park – the Clare forward is likely to be shadowed closely by Adrian Tuohy in tomorrow’s replay. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

John Mullane

This will have been a tricky week to manage for Clare and Galway, as they prepare to do it all over again for a place in the All-Ireland final.

In 2010, I spent so much time between the Munster final and replay in and out of the sea in Tramore, trying to soothe aching muscles after the first match.

Following the draw on the Sunday, I can honestly say that I didn't feel I was coming right again until Thursday.

Recovery, recovery, recovery - all that was in my head was getting back to where I'd been before the first game, 100 per cent fresh in body first and foremost, and then the mind would follow.

If I wasn't right physically, that's when the doubts kicked in.

This is where the physios, masseurs and strength and conditioning coaches will have earned their corn this week.

It's crucial that the quick turn-around has been managed well and it will play a big part in how this replay pans out - but there are other factors at play that will determine the outcome.

1 The venue

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Thurles may suit Galway more than Clare. Granted, Clare have had some very good days in Thurles, and the majority of their players won All-Ireland U-21 medals at Semple Stadium.

They also beat Tipperary there this summer in the senior championship but if you asked any Clare player or supporter, they'd rather be heading back up to Croke Park.

Galway's last three championship games in Thurles have seen victories recorded on each occasion - Cork 2015, Clare 2016 and Kilkenny most recently in the Leinster final replay.

Clare will take heart from their 2013 win against Galway at the Field of Legends but this game, in front of a sell-out crowd of just over 46,000, is new territory.

We've seen the atmospheres generated when semi-final replays are moved out of GAA HQ.

I can recall Clare against Offaly in 1998, the Kerry-Mayo football replay at the Gaelic Grounds in 2014, and that Kilkenny-Waterford game in 2016.

That latter match was one of the best occasions I've ever experienced, even if the result didn't go Waterford's way.

Tomorrow, these players are going to experience an atmosphere like never before, when every ball, every moment, every pass and score is roared to higher decibel levels.

2 The sweeper system

The word 'sweeper' has been bandied about quite a bit over the last few weeks, in a negative context.

The consensus seems to be that it's a tactic that won't get a team over the line in games of huge magnitude.

But Clare can be thankful for using the sweeper last Sunday, and in Colm Galvin they had a master in the role.

He sat in the pocket in front of Johnny Glynn and cut out the space in front of the Galway man-mountain.

A lot of Clare's good play also originated from Galvin's high possession rate.

The beauty about this Clare team is their adaptability, being able to change seamlessly from the conventional set-up to an extra man at the back. The question now is will Clare roll out the same system again or go man-on-man and see how it plays out.

I think they'll go conventional from the start but vary it to keep Galway guessing. I did state last week that Clare would have to bring the unexpected to the table and they did, catching Galway cold at various stages.

Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney may have to bring something new and fresh again because you can be sure that Micheál Donoghue and his backroom team will have pored over the video from last Sunday.

And they'll be ready with a plan to counteract Galvin and goalkeeper Donal Tuohy's short puck-out strategy.

This is where the venue can also be a factor as I'd feel that goalkeepers are more comfortable going short at Croke Park than Thurles.

As we saw over the course of two games last weekend, goalkeepers exert a huge influence on games and there's huge focus on trying to disrupt their pattern.

Donoghue will target those Clare re-starts and also devise a plan to tackle the Clare sweeper.

Clare will need to come with something different again.

3 Injury worries

Freshness and mental strength will play a massive part. Clare have a clean bill of health but you can't say the same about Galway.

The word is that Joe Canning will be good to go but Gearóid McInerney looks set to miss out.

Donoghue needs to fill the void in his half-back line and he'll also worry about Dáithí Burke's condition after a gruelling 90 minutes.

Patching up the spine of your defence at All-Ireland semi-final stage is the mother of all asks.

Donoghue might ask Joseph Cooney to slot into the half-back line, where he's played before.

He'd know the role, too, as he plays in a deep-lying half-forward position, and he'd have the height to go toe-to-toe with Peter Duggan. Joseph's not having one of his best years but sometimes a different challenge or a positional switch can re-energise a player.

4 Match-ups

If Cooney does go to the half-back line, you'll likely see Galway's Pádraic Mannion picking up Tony Kelly, and tracking the Clare star wherever he goes.

Adrian Tuohy will pick up Podge Collins again and Donoghue has men like Seán Loftus and Paul Killeen as cover.

Niall Burke might slip in at wing-forward, as he did for the Leinster final replay, with Jason Flynn in reserve.

Looking at the above, Donoghue has cover for defence, midfield and in attack but Moloney and O'Connor have serious options too.

David Fitzgerald was excellent when he came in last Sunday and if he starts, Kelly could play at midfield.

Clare also have Jason McCarthy, Conor McGrath, Aron Shanagher and Ian Galvin itching and ready to make an impact when called upon.

5 Verdict

It has to be said that it's hugely disappointing that so many genuine Galway and Clare supporters, who have travelled all over the country to watch their teams in action this year, will not have the chance to do so tomorrow, due to the crazy ticketing system in use for the rematch.

They'll miss out on a humdinger because we've seen this year that the top teams are conditioned to go for the full 70 minutes and beyond. Even six- or seven-point deficits don't faze counties on the chase.

Ask the question about who has the greater scope for improvement and while many will say Galway, and maybe that's true, Clare's players and management will know that they had the champions by the throat last Sunday.

They also know that they have the ammunition to go and choke them this time, and not let them up for air. In a summer that keeps on giving, and with the Holy Father's arrival to these shores imminent, we'll surely be blessed with another gift from Heaven.

It promises to be another titanic battle, filled with more drama and tension, but Galway get my vote to crawl over the line and set up a final clash with Limerick.

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