Galway’s ambitions on track

On Sunday week last Galway kept up its impressive form with a merited five point win over Cork in the opening senior hurling semi-final, but facing Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final will present a challenge of monumental proportions.

On Sunday week last Galway kept up its impressive form with a merited five point win over Cork in the opening senior hurling semi-final, but facing Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final will present a challenge of monumental proportions.

Their semi was a strange game. The Rebels were excellent in the opening half, but never played with the same momentum thereafter.

Anyone expecting Galway to deliver a similar performance to the Kilkenny game was not being realistic. All-Ireland semi-finals are all about winning. Performances are secondary. I expected Cork to put up a decent challenge and they held their own for 35 minutes.

They should have had more on the scoreboard at the interval. Hurling games at this stage of the championship are usually very competitive with a high degree of intensity. The Cork v Galway game fitted that description only in part.

For sure there was plenty of highly combative and intense hurling, but the amount of loose play and wayward clearances was surprising from both teams. Galway’s undoubted potential came to the fore in the second half as they slowly but effectively squeezed the life out of the Rebels. 

Key players emerged

Key players finally emerged to dominate areas of the pitch and Cork simply had no answers to the fluency and skill of its opponents. Joe Canning and Damien Hayes have been around longer than most of the Galway players and their influence is one of the primary reasons why Galway reached an overdue All-Ireland final.

Perhaps more importantly it is a tenacious and vice-like defence which is proving so important to the Westerners. 

Johnny Coen and Niall Donoghue are impressing more and more with every game, while I really like the powerful presence of Tony Óg Regan at the centre of the defence.

Not for the first time Galway came up with a range of tactics to thwart its opponents, but I was surprised that Cork did not have a game plan to counter. Maybe it’s Anthony Cunningham’s experience coaching football teams, but his ultra-defensive style in the second half helped to secure the success.

For whatever reason the Rebels kept pumping the ball back to into a crowded area in front of the Galway goal where scoring was nigh impossible. Having absorbed plenty of Cork pressure which yielded few scores, Galway was able to put over enough points to pull away impressively in the closing ten minutes.

This was the perfect performance from Galway and it is easy to see the confidence growing in the players. 

I do not know whether it is a case of the glass half full or half empty for Cork. Defensively the Rebels were excellent despite conceding 22 points, but it was a very different story with the Cork attack.

Puzzled

The substitution of four starting forwards tells its own story. Constant chopping and changing does nothing for a player’s confidence and Cork is simply going to have to place more faith in some of these young players and not substitute them so regularly.

If four attackers had to be substituted, I was puzzled why John Gardiner did not see some action, even as an attacker. His experience alone would have been an undoubted asset in the closing quarter.

Despite this loss, it has been a year of steady progress by Cork, but they have some way to go to be considered serious championship contenders.

Galway is where it wants to be and to be honest it’s about time. With so much hurling talent in the county the Westerners should never have been waiting so long to reach the All-Ireland final.

They now need one huge performance to make up for nearly a quarter of a century of heartache. After last Sunday’s display from Kilkenny, Anthony Cunningham and his players may now have to reappraise their tactics for the All-Ireland showdown.