Thursday 18 January 2018

Cunningham's troops will perish without hunger for the battle

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It was the moment that typified Galway's mental and physical lethargy in the Leinster final and will have featured prominently in their video analysis sessions since then.

Three minutes before half-time, Dublin midfielder Johnny McCaffrey stroked a sideline cut backwards to the unmarked Stephen Hiney.

Unchallenged and unhurried, the wing-back passed the ball back to McCaffrey, who had plenty of time to take aim and strike over a point.

The nearest Galway player to McCaffrey was full-forward Joe Canning, now far from home and desperately trying to be a defender. Where was McCaffrey's marker? Where was Hiney's opponent? Where was Galway's work ethic?

It must have been a joyous sight for Anthony Daly as he watched his side do the simple things so well while Galway's main striker was being forced into his own half to defend.

It summed up Galway's performance for the first 50 minutes and formed a large part of the reason why there are so many doubts surrounding them going into tomorrow's season-defining clash with Clare.

If Galway replicate that sloppiness against labour-intensive Clare, they are headed for a sixth successive All-Ireland quarter-final defeat, probably by a sizeable margin. Of course, there is more to them than that, as they showed against Kilkenny for all except the last quarter of the third game between them last year.

Galway also did well against Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. They played with huge energy in all those games but, for whatever reason, it has been absent this season.

In contrast, Clare have brought a massive work rate to every game, which has quite often masked deficiencies. Davy Fitzgerald will have identified Galway's moodiness as an area to exploit. There's a feeling now that if Galway don't start well, they become vulnerable quite quickly, something which must have occupied Anthony Cunningham's thoughts in recent weeks.

Presumably, the intensity issue will be solved – if it's not, this is the end of the cycle for many of this squad and possibly the management too, since a repeat of the implosion against Dublin won't be tolerated in a county where frustration levels are already high.

A worrying aspect of Galway's play for several years has been their inability to weather storms anything like as well as their main rivals.

When Galway hit a bad patch, they usually concede a lot, whereas the likes of Kilkenny can dig in and re-emerge later without having suffered too much damage.

That should not be the case with a Galway squad at this advanced stage of its development. Clare aren't as far down the development road but are shaping up nicely, playing a running game which Fitzgerald clearly believes is best suited to the type of players he has at his disposal.

The game plan majors in point-scoring, whereas Galway pose a greater goal-scoring threat when Canning is posted close to the opposition square.

He got minimal support against Dublin, who quickly realised that if they could close him down, Galway's scoring threat would be severely curtailed. Clare will attempt to do likewise but that should open space for the rest of the Galway attack, all of whom are under pressure after poor shows against Dublin and Laois.

But then everybody in the Galway camp is under pressure. There is no doubt that the Tribesmen are hugely talented. Surely, it has to make a belated appearance at some stage this season.

Verdict: Galway

Galway – C Callanan; K Hynes, F Moore, J Coen; S Kavanagh, D Collins, J Grealish; A Harte, A Smith; D Burke, C Cooney, J Glynn; D Hayes, J Canning, N Burke.

Galway v Clare Live, RTE 2, tomorrow 4.0

Irish Independent

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