Friday 18 October 2019

Fiona McHale: 'Power runners and physicality hold key to Galway ambition'

Galway's Megan Glynn, right and Fabienne Cooney celebrate following their All-Ireland semi-final win against Mayo. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Galway's Megan Glynn, right and Fabienne Cooney celebrate following their All-Ireland semi-final win against Mayo. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Fiona McHale

When Galway's Annette Clarke fired home one of the greatest goals to be scored in Croke Park in the 2004 All-Ireland final one would have thought that the glory days for that team were only beginning.

The following year they were beaten by a young and talented Cork team who would go on to change the landscape of ladies football with an extraordinary era of excellence.

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Fast forward 14 years and Galway ladies are gracing Croke Park for the first time since that 2005 defeat.

Fabienne Cooney, one of the senior players in this current Galway squad, recently alluded to her time as a young fan back then and lamented not having played at headquarters over her playing career to date.

Considering Galway have won five minor All-Irelands during that time, their most recent being 2013, 2014 and 2018, it's baffling to think that they haven't achieved more at senior level outside of their domination of Connacht.

But today they have a massive opportunity and irrespective of the underdog tag will go into this final against the reigning champions full of optimism and confidence.

At their disposal they have two of the best defensive markers in the country in Sinead Burke and Nicola Ward. The latter is just coming back into form again after a lengthy injury lay-off. To me, in the last three games she has looked to be peaking just at the right time.

I expect Burke and Ward to take up Sinead Aherne and Niamh McEvoy. Ward would be most suited to playing on the half-back line to allow her to make her trademark driving runs forward - runs which will be absolutely vital for Galway if they are to break through Dublin's defensive wall.

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Galway also have two of the most talented kickers in the game at the moment in Roisin and Tracey Leonard, and powerful runners in Olivia Divilly, Megan Glynn and Louise Ward.

The tactical battle will be interesting to watch. Dublin and Galway are quite similar in their set-ups bringing at least 12 behind the ball and then counter-attacking at pace.

So, this game will be won in the middle third of the pitch and particularly who can best break down the wall that both teams will create outside the D area.

Under Mick Bohan, Dublin have almost perfected a system of utilising a well organised defensive wall which, coupled with their high tackle rate, makes them difficult opponents. Once they snare you, they are very good at launching high-paced counter-attacks.

One key difference, however, between the teams is that Dublin have shown an ability to play off-the-cuff when needed, almost with more abandon, by getting players ahead of the ball at times.

They are a constant threat at pace in the attacking half of the pitch. Galway will need to mirror this if they are to have any chance of breaking down Dublin's well-drilled defence and exceptional tackling.

For Galway to overcome this defence they will need their strong runners coming from deep and at angles and will need to be more creative in how they set up their forward line to get the most out of the Leonards. Tracey and Roisin should not be relying on long ball into space and will need to be coming off the end of powerful Galway runs to finish from range.

Last year's All-Ireland final really showed Dublin's physicality and it was the big difference between them and Cork on the day - indeed, it is the one area that has set them apart from all other teams in the last few years.

Galway's strongest line is their half-forward line and this will need to dominate Dublin's half-back line, which seems like a massive ask.

Lauren Magee and Louise Ward will be one of the most exciting battles today if they are paired up in the middle of the park. Louise will have to be involved in attacks in order to break down Dublin's physical defensive shield that Cork failed to break down in the semi-final.

Carla Rowe, back from injury after last year, has always been a big-game player for Dublin and the impact of having her back this year is greater than people may give her credit for. She has an important role.

Whether Noelle Healy actually starts remains to be seen and this will have a massive bearing on the game. If Bohan chooses to save her until the latter stages of the game this would show huge confidence in his current squad and I don't think any other teams would have the luxury of doing that.

Finishing strongly the way they did against Cork with Jennifer Dunne and Healy coming into the frame will allow Dublin finish with their strongest team. I don't think Galway have the depth in their squad that can match this and I expect Dublin to complete the three in-a-row.

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