galway now being left behind
The first two puckouts that James Skehill took on Saturday evening, Cyril Donnellan stuck up his hand and caught them. It was almost like a gun-shot of defiance against all the critics who had hammered Galway for not being able to win primary possession.
However, the blast didn't carry very far into the evening sky because Dublin won 18 of Galway's 24 puckouts afterwards. Overall, Dublin won the puckout statistic 31-15. Sliced. Diced. And wiped out.
In these pages on Saturday, Brendan Lynskey slated Galway for their failure to win puckouts in the air. Yet that is only part of the problem. Over the last decade, only two teams were loaded with consistent aerial ball-winners: Kilkenny and Justin McCarthy's Waterford. And most primary possession now is won on the break, in both hurling and football.
Liam Rushe ate up whatever high
ball came his way but the majority of puckouts and 50-50 duels that Dublin won were on the ground.
Galway are light years behind Dublin, Tipperary and Kilkenny now in terms of conditioning. Those sides have introduced a physicality never seen before in the game, but Galway are still trying to play out-and-out hurling and are being left behind.
Dublin are now the closest team to Tipp in terms of their intelligent use of possession and the recent Galway-Tipp league game showed how far away Galway are in that regard. Galway have some warriors in defence, but Dublin hunted in packs, bullied them in the tackle, while their anticipation of the breakdown was far superior.
It should have been obvious to management after 20 minutes that Galway needed players like Alan Kerins, Andy Smyth and Kevin Hynes in the game.
There was an element of panic to Galway's attack throughout the game but, aside from the impressive Joe Gantley who made 13 plays, Galway's attack suffered a meltdown. The eight other forwards that featured struck the ball out of their hand a combined total of just 14 occasions. Four of their starting forwards managed just three of those strikes. At this level, that is mind-blowing.
Although Iarla Tannian and Ger Farragher were injured, Galway had no game-breaker on the bench to bring in, which brings us on to another point. Lynskey said on Saturday that there were "three or four" on the current team "not entitled" to wear a jersey. Yet where are the three or four better than them? They're not there. There are a few decent club players, but are they willing to do the conditioning work required for the modern game? Probably not.
It's clear now that there has been a systems failure in Galway and the example of Niall Corcoran highlights it. He never made it in Galway because he wasn't enough of an archetypical Galway stickman or stylist. Yet he can thrive in Dublin and cleaned his man out on Saturday. How many players like Corcoran have Galway flushed out of their system in the last 20 years? Galway are perennial All-Ireland contenders because they've been gobbling up All-Ireland underage titles for the last two decades, but where is that getting them? If they'd a choice, they wouldn't have underage teams to go into Leinster and why should they with their success? They have the system off to a tee, but maybe that's been just too easy. It's time now for their underage sides to look to go into Leinster and learn more about themselves on the hard road.
Because what they're doing clearly isn't working. And hasn't for 23 years.