Saturday 18 January 2020

John Mullane: Muscle can get Tribesmen over the line

Galway's potent mix of brains and brawn looks too much for Tipp - provided Michéal Donoghue gets his match-ups right

Tipperary’s John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is sure to get close attention from the Galwlay backline. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary’s John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is sure to get close attention from the Galwlay backline. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

In recent days, I took the chance to watch the last three games of major significance between Galway and Tipperary. There were some interesting nuggets to emerge from the 2015 and 2016 All-Ireland semi-finals, and the League final earlier this year.

One thing that really struck me is the physical condition that both teams are in heading into this one, compared to 2015.

There's a common thread here - and that's the Polish strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein.

His stamp was all over Tipperary last year and Galway manager Micheál Donoghue moved quickly to poach him from the Premier County.

If there's a slight advantage in the strength department, it's with Galway, and it could be a deciding factor.

Seamus Callanan scored 3-9 for Tipp in 2015 and without him, Galway would have done a number on them.

Galway won by a point but lost by the same margin last year, after a gallant effort that saw them play the second half without two key men - Joe Canning and Adrian Tuohy.

The match-ups will prove crucial tomorrow. In 2015, Cathal Mannion took a young Ronan Maher to the cleaners, although the Tipp defender looked a real man a year later at centre-back.

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But it won't go unnoticed in Galway that Maher struggled two years ago against Mannion, a player with huge running ability.

Maher, let's not forget, had similar problems with Cork's Conor Lehane in May.

The mistake Donoghue made last year was positioning Joseph Cooney at No 11 on Maher but what you could see happening this time is Mannion moving into that position, and inter-changing with Canning.

It should be noted that Mannion was successful in nullifying Pádraic Maher in the League decider - and he registered 1-1.

But, Galway will recall that Mannion was substituted late on in last August's semi-final, when he pitched up against the same player.

There's real food for thought here for Galway, who will also have identified struggles in Tipp's full-back line.

But I have a feeling that the Tribesmen might penetrate Tipp in their half-back line and at midfield.

The majority of the talk is about that Tipp inside line but they're struggling in those other areas too.

What both counties possess are forwards who can inter-change at any given time - and that can help any team to become All-Ireland champions.

So, I'm expecting both management teams to detail their six defenders to pick up designated markers in the opposition forward lines.

What I noticed in the Leinster final, and it has generally flown under the radar, is how John Hanbury tracked Wexford's Lee Chin at midfield.

Hanbury is more recognised as a defender but Donoghue had no issue with moving him further forward, and on a quality player in Chin.

Galway also possess a top-class corner-back in Tuohy, and he can operate almost anywhere across the back. Still, I expect him to go and man-mark John McGrath, who was the player of the League until he ran into Tuohy in the final.

It's a mouth-watering individual duel, as both players are in All-Star form at the moment.

Daithí Burke will surely pick up Callanan wherever he goes, which leaves us with the question: what will Galway do with John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer?

Watching the previous games back, Bubbles was marked by Johnny Coen in 2015, and the Galway man picked him up when he came on as sub last year.

And so, Galway have the option of moving Hanbury to midfield, and dropping Coen into corner-back.

Elsewhere, expect Gearóid McInerney to police 'Bonner' Maher, which leaves us with Pádraic Mannion on Noel McGrath, and Aidan Harte picking up Dan McCormack.

Across the three games I studied, Tipp went long periods of time without registering a score, into double-digits in terms of minutes played. Michael Ryan will be desperate to avoid a repeat - because they might not get away with it this time.

The Tipp manager will have given this game plenty of thought. What, for instance, does he do with Canning?

Will he perhaps put Pádraic Maher on him, with younger brother Ronan on Joseph Cooney and Seamus Kennedy on Mannion?

He has options but he must get his choices right.

Ryan will be conscious, too, that while a lot of people give out about Wexford and Waterford, and the style they adopt, Galway aren't averse to pulling men back the field and minimising space.

That's another reason why he'll surely have to consider going like for like in defence because if Galway funnel men back, they'll look to exploit space at the other end of the field when they break forward.

In this regard, Tipp would surely be better served by asking their defenders to go one-on-one with the Galway forwards, rather than taking their chances in a more zonal fashion.

Tipperary's team was announced last night and the report coming out of the Premier County earlier this week proved correct as Darren Gleeson has replaced Daragh Mooney between the posts, with Michael Cahill returning at corner-back at the expense of Tomás Hamill.

This now means that James Barry can return to his natural habitat of full-back after a fraught day in the corner against Clare.

I'd see those as good moves. With Cahill back, that's Tipp reverting to five of their 2016 All-Ireland winning defence.

Donagh Maher, for me, is pretty much a like-for-like Cathal Barrett replacement, but Galway are better equipped to plug potential holes all over the field - and they have plenty of options to call upon from the bench.

A big potential weapon in their armoury is Johnny Glynn, who is fit again and available for selection.

We shouldn't forget either that Galway were without the in-form Conor Cooney for the League final.

He's a massive addition for the championship meeting and you just get the feeling with Galway that everything over the last three years or so has been geared towards winning an All-Ireland title.

If they do come unstuck, the five-week break won't be an issue.

Moreover, it could come down to the lack of games they've had to really steel them. The league final was a cakewalk and they sauntered through Leinster against Dublin, Offaly and Wexford. Tipp, in contrast, have had a tough recent test against Clare and you can't beat games like that.

In the previous two years, the pressure was all on Tipp and even though they're the All-Ireland champions, that pressure has shifted to Galway because of the weight of expectation they've created with their performances this year.

Historically, that's not something they're comfortable with.

However, Galway are more assured in defence at this point in time - and that extra muscle can tip the scales in their favour.

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