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Iarla Tannian of Galway

Iarla Tannian of Galway

SPORTSFILE

Iarla Tannian of Galway

Where Galway's hurlers are concerned, there is always a requirement to couch any observation about them in considerable caution.

The absence of an All-Ireland senior title for more than 25 years now for a county that has, in that period, been eight times All-Ireland minor champions, six times All-Ireland U-21 champions, four times National Hurling League champions and 11 times All-Ireland club champions, courtesy of six different clubs, is an imbalance that demands such wariness.

So, last Sunday's demolition of Dublin in Salthill is unlikely to trigger the same wave of optimism that has poured from such results in the past. Nice performance, yes, plenty of promise, but consideration for how off-colour the Leinster champions were. The rival managers, Anthony Cunningham and Anthony Daly, found common ground on that.

They were also singing from the same hymn sheet about the performance of Iarla Tannian at centre-back. To Daly's eye, Tannian had been "unbeatable" there – Galway claimed puck-out supremacy on Dublin's ball by 14-1 in the opening half.

"The ball kept coming back down to Gary (Maguire). As soon as he pucked it out it was coming back down. They look like they have a half-back line there that would be unbeatable," said Daly.

Cunningham was more reticent, but conceded that Tannian at No 6 and debutant Ronan Burke behind him at full-back were pleasing footnotes to the performance. "They have been positions Galway have struggled in for the last few years," he said.

The mid to late-1990s was a golden age for dominant centre-backs when Clare's Seanie McMahon, Offaly's Hubert Rigney and Cork's Brian Corcoran were all in their prime.

With hurling's evolution has come perhaps less need for a particular type of centre-back; Clare's rotation of players through the position for their games from the All-Ireland quarter-final on reflects that. But there is comfort, too, in having a steady hand and physical presence down the middle channel.

Tannian provided that repeatedly last Sunday, winning ball and clearing his lines with a zeal and venom not seen in his game since 2012 when he claimed an All Star for his performances at midfield.

Can his latest reinvention solve one of Galway hurling's most problematic positions? They've been searching for a resident centre-back since the second half of the drawn All-Ireland final with Kilkenny in 2012 when Tony Óg Regan began to experience discomfort.

Regan hasn't started a match in the position since the replay and has since been moved to the periphery. But for the three championship seasons before that he had been a fixture, playing 15 of their 16 games and missing just a Leinster quarter-final against Westmeath in 2011, when John Lee stepped in.

Lee had been the great hope for the position since the middle of the last decade. Ger Loughnane saw the potential for a new McMahon in him and during his first league campaign Lee was the only player to play consistently in the same position. But post-2009, the light on his inter-county career began to flicker, and it doesn't burn at all now.

In the first league match of 2013 against Kilkenny, Joseph Cooney stepped into the breach and coped well, but by the third match against Tipperary, he had been whipped off by half-time. He had sustained mild concussion, but he didn't feature in the position for any of the six subsequent games in league and championship.

David Collins took up the mantle for the remaining three league games and for the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Clare, Shane Kavanagh stepped in for the Leinster games against Laois and Dublin. For Tannian, this latest reinvention is timely as he looks to rediscover the form that set such high standards in 2012.

STRANGER

Taken off in that opening league game against Kilkenny at half-time, he didn't make the starting 15 for the Clare game last July. Prior to last year's league, he admitted the move to midfield from a career spent in the forwards with Galway was out of necessity because of performances. He recalled being taken off after 18 minutes in one game.

At club level with Ardrahan, he is no stranger to centre-back. He had a reputation in the early part of his career for being laid back. When Conor Hayes was manager, he felt Tannian was a "player worth pursuing" but he found it difficult to commit.

He has the power, and on last Sunday's evidence, the aggression to succeed there. He looked comfortable facing the ball. As ever with Galway, there is caution attached. They have options just about everywhere else, but at centre-back there aren't many chips to play.

Irish Independent