Galway must step up to plate and justify switch to Leinster
IT wasn't supposed to be like this for Galway. Being polite to your hosts is one thing but there's no need to take it too far.
This is Galway's fourth season in the Leinster championship and they have little enough to show for it, certainly in terms of advancing their All-Ireland ambitions. They have only made it to one provincial final (2010), where they were swatted aside by Kilkenny, and far worse was to follow last year when Dublin trimmed them in the semi-final.
Still, going into Leinster was the right thing to do for Galway, even if they have taken longer than might have been expected to adjust. A return to the old days of trying to scuffle through the qualifiers without a provincial base would be unthinkable but, now that they are in Leinster, they need to really assert themselves, starting against Offaly tomorrow.
It comes down to this: if Galway are to make a coherent case as they why they should be regarded as All-Ireland contenders, they must not only win tomorrow but also display a structure and solidity which will make others take note.
It's a scenario that will have Offaly queuing up to welcome them across the Shannon. All the pressure is on Galway to live up to their fancied rating, and there's nothing Offaly hurlers love better than defying the odds. They would always feel that they have a real chance of beating Galway and the record books back them up.
They go into tomorrow's game off a mixed performance against Wexford, but it still gives them a competitive edge on Galway, who are having their first championship outing. Once they got into their stride, Offaly looked as if they had made a considerable step up against Wexford, only to lose the initiative on the home stretch, leaving them hanging on at the end.
Having survived, they will try to play on a Galway weakness which has repeatedly undermined them. Galway are notorious for their mood swings, ranging from an elated high where even Kilkenny would be wary of them to a dismal low where they could lose to just about anybody.
Galway supporters were hoping that a change of management, followed by a major shake-up in the squad, would eliminate that, but it was still there in the league when the split personality was very much in evidence. Still, they eventually survived in 1A, having gone out on a high in the relegation play-off against Dublin. Ultimately, of course, they will be judged on the championship.
There's a lot of young blood in the Galway side, lads like Joseph and Conor Cooney, Niall Donoghue, Niall and David Burke and Johnny Coen, who are well used to winning underage championships. Now if any county knows that minor and U-21 success guarantees nothing, it's Galway but, at the same time, Anthony Cunningham is right to put his trust in the new generation.
The old way didn't work so it was time for change.
Offaly will target the younger Galway players, trying to unsettle them and preventing them from generating real momentum. Offaly are good at that but it's by no means the only weapon at their disposal.
I'd expect them to relocate Joe Bergin (pictured above) close to the Galway goal, with Cathal Parlon or Brian Carroll drifting out. Westmeath made profit by lofting high balls in around the goal in the quarter-final and since Offaly are even better equipped to cash in on any looseness, Galway will need to be a lot more secure than they were in Mullingar.
I would expect them to be. And if they keep the goal giveaway rate down, Joe Canning and Co will probably run up a winning score at the other end.
Deise deserving of more respect
JUST what have Waterford got to do to convince people that they are one serious hurling force? They have been a consistent third behind Kilkenny and Tipperary over the last four or five seasons, yet have found themselves starting every year amid predictions that they were heading for a rapid decline.
It hasn't happened. The appointment of one of their own, Michael Ryan, as manager was the latest pretext for suggesting a Waterford retreat, which is deeply unfair on him.
The man deserves a chance to impose his own personality on the team. It took them time to settle down in the league but, once they did, they steered clear of relegation worries, leaving Dublin and Galway to grapple with each other over the trap door.
Glance through the Waterford line-up and you'll see so many proven performers that talk of their demise may be ridiculously premature. Davy Fitzgerald certainly won't be taking anything for granted as he sets sail on his latest adventure.
By the way, I don't believe for one second that Fitzy's inside knowledge of the Waterford players gives Clare any advantage. I have always believed that knowing your own players is what really matters for a manager because, ultimately, that's where he can exert real influence.
Anyway, if Fitzy's insight on Waterford is an advantage to Clare, isn't the Waterford players' inside knowledge of how he primes his players a plus for them?
Clare certainly made progress this spring, twice beating their main promotion rivals Limerick in 1B before putting it up to Kilkenny for a long time in the semi-final.
Clare are taking a different approach under Fitzy, opting a lot more for the possession game than they used to. He has them supremely fit so they are well able for it but, even then, it takes its toll, which makes it crucial to have enough high-quality subs who can come on and maintain the momentum.
Waterford's game will be more spontaneous as they attempt to move the point of play quickly. It suits their natural instincts and will cause problems for Clare in what will be a game of contrasting styles.
It should lead to a fascinating contest. I'd have a slight fancy for Clare, on the basis that they are now capable of generating a huge amount of momentum. They have got to make that count. Kilkenny took their best punches in the league semi-final and then hit back with their own, a formula Waterford will attempt to replicate.
Of course nobody does that as well as Kilkenny, which is why Clare will probably make it through to the Munster final. As for Waterford, they will still be serious contenders later on.