Sport Hurling

Monday 20 November 2017

Tribal survival boosted by return of St Thomas' stars

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

GALWAY hurlers will be bolstered by the return of their St Thomas' contingent tonight and the cavalry couldn't be more timely.

Despite their sensational opening-round defeat of Kilkenny, the beaten All-Ireland finalists are bottom of the precariously balanced Division 1A table, with a relegation play-off looming.

Such are the permutations of hurling's upcoming 'Super Sunday' that beating Waterford in next weekend's final round – a task made particularly difficult by having to face the table-toppers at Walsh Park – could earn them a semi-final or still not save them.

But former All-Ireland-winning manager Cyril Farrell says the possibility of a relegation tussle should not worry the Tribesmen.

"Some people don't seem to realise just how competitive every game in this division has been, that's why it's so finely balanced," he said.

"Remember the most pivotal game in Galway's development last year was that relegation replay against Dublin.

"Everyone regarded that as the game that galvanised their season so whether they end up in a relegation play-off or the semi-finals, it doesn't really matter because they'll all be competitive games."

All-Ireland club champions St Thomas' stars Conor Cooney, David Burke, James Regan and Darragh Burke are all expected to return to county training tonight.

It remains to be seen if any more of St Thomas' victorious club side get the county call-up. The powerfully built Bernard Burke (pictured) has been tipped to get a recall.

The return of Cooney and David Burke are regarded as particularly vital, given the problems Galway have had in securing primary ball and scoring this season.

Only three players scored last weekend and, once again, the burden of scoring fell to Joe Canning.

He notched 0-10 (7fs, one line-ball) and Cyril Donnellan (1-2) and Davy Glennon (1-0) were their only other scorers in the draw with Cork.

When they lost to Clare, another game they could have won if they'd made better use of their scoring opportunities, there were only five scorers, with Canning getting 1-9 (8fs).

But Farrell says the statistics are a little false.

"Obviously you'd like to see a better spread of scoring but the statistics don't really tell the full narrative," he stressed. "Joe (Canning) is obviously the star forward and knocking over the frees but you'll find other forwards have won a fair few of them.

"Cooney coming back should be a big factor as he can really play the inside line which we need but I'd be more worried about sorting the defence."

Last weekend's failure to put away Cork – who they led by four points with a quarter remaining – again highlighted the Tribesmen's defensive frailties, which saw them concede a worrying 4-22 to Tipperary in the previous round.

David Collins followed Cooney and Tony Og Regan as their latest choice at centre-back, a position still felt to be inadequately filled since the days when Farrell was leading Galway to All-Ireland glory.

And it won't have escaped them that they face a Waterford side with the most in-form centre-back in the country. Michael 'Brick' Walsh has been a defensive colossus for the Decies in their last two games, with Kevin Moran his strong ally on the defensive '45', and it's exactly that sort of defensive leadership that Galway need at present as much as anything upfront.

• Division 1A NHL next Sunday (all 3.0 throw-ins): Waterford (5pts) v Galway (3); Tipperary (4) v Clare (4); Kilkenny (4) v Cork (4).

Irish Independent

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