Leinster SHC Final Reflections

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Is this Galway’s year to win Liam McCarthy? 

The supposed titanic struggle petered out well before the final quarter at Croke Park as Galway held all the aces as they won the Bob O’Keefe Cup with nine points to spare. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the game.

Galway’s experience key

The opening period of this final was frantic, intensity was incredible. Wexford stood toe to toe with Galway and took the lead at different intervals of the opening period but Galway refused to panic today and they finished the half strong leading by three points.

The scoreboard at half-time was perhaps harsh on Wexford given their moments of promise with Chin and Morris prominent but lapses in concentration in the final half exchanges were crucial with a couple of soft defensive frees compounded with misplaced free taking by the Model County.

The early second half exchanges ultimately proved the defining moment of the game as Wexford squandered 1-1 while Galway continued to execute the game plan and keep the scoreboard ticking over.

All of a sudden, Galway were six points up ten minutes into the second half and Wexford were now chasing the game, opening themselves up for score concessions in the process and with Canning and Cooney in sublime form, the result was rubber stamped well before the final whistle.

Galway forward line movement exemplary

The forward line unit performance from Galway was a standout today. I asked the question how would Galway combat the Wexford defensive system and they answered the questions emphatically.

Fast, intelligent ball distribution from the half back and midfield areas to the forward line stood out. There was minimal high ball into the forward line, there was method to the distribution with Conor Whelan turning provider.

The Kinvara clubman is playing at a level far beyond his age and his physicality to hold off defensive attention to win the dirty ball is a real plus for the Galway forward line units this season.

Whelan can score evident in his performance against Offaly in the Leinster semi-final but today his role was to win ball and distribute to allow his colleagues to flourish. The selfless approach which embodies the side at the moment.

Joe Canning. What can you say about the Portumna genius? Canning’s game management and ability over placed balls and side line cuts is a real issue for opposition. His positional and role in the team has shifted this season but Canning is reveling in the new role. His distribution to the inside forward line again to the fore again; superb low ball to the likes of Niall Burke, Conor and Joseph Cooney. Wexford were in a daze come the end of this encounter.

Galway’s forward line have produced a defining performance to every other team in the competition. They can beat you either 1-1 or if sweeper defensive systems are deployed against them. Twenty-nine points scored today is a superb tally and bodes well for the All Ireland series.

Wexford Project a work in progress

A loss today but this Wexford project is a work in progress. The anticipation and excitement in the county has being sensational but I feel a couple of players were adversely affected by the hype.

Conor McDonald had an indifferent afternoon, his placed ball execution was mixed. His penalty miss in the second half further highlighted confidence issues and his influence on proceedings was non-existent thereafter. McDonald needs to learn from this experience and come back a better player.

The Wexford back line for thirty minutes manfully tried to stem the Galway attacking threat but gaps started to open significantly in the closing stages of the opening period and second half where Galway’s forward line scored at will. The corner backs had a torrid afternoon throughout. The quality ball coming in against them was seriously causing issues and quarter-final teams who may face Wexford next will see this as a point to exploit.

Chin had his moments but Galway’s physicality and work rate was on point throughout. Chin caught several superb balls in the air but the lack of supporting runners off him at times was disappointing. Paul Morris was realistically the only other forward who rose to the occasion; a couple of scores from play and will be a pivotal player for the remainder of the season.

Davy Fitzgerald will point to a couple of scores not going their way but the fact of the matter was that Galway are further along the path to All Ireland success, more battle hardened and experience of past failures drove them on. An afternoon where Fitzgerald will have learned plenty about his new charges.

Galway back line passed the test with aplomb

Galway’s back line are the real deal. Every player on duty had an excellent display and their ability to support their colleague putting pressure on opposition attackers stood out.

McInerney, Mannion and Harte were imperious in the half-back line. They dominated exchanges for long periods. Yes, Lee Chin had eyecatching moments but his influence was stifled by and large.

A note for John Hanbury who was on point throughout. Minimal fuss with ball distribution and won several keynote frees. The Rahoon-Newcastle club player has received flak at times over previous seasons but the player stood up and produced an emphatic display. Daithi Burke and Adrian Tuohy nullifed the threat of McDonald and Kehoe. Mission accomplished.

Galway will be the first to say that tougher tests lie ahead but this back line have all the attributes, skill set and distribution skills to beat all comers. An imperious performance and one that will be noted by all hurling followers. Callanan was excellent when called upon; a superb defensive line.

David Burke

Oozed class throughout. In fairness to Johnny Coen, I have had my doubts on the player but he performed a performance full of work rate and tempo, winning endless dirty ball and supplying Burke and Canning throughout. David Burke is a sensational striker of a sliothar. His running lines are sublime and Wexford could not handle Burke’s attacking threat, a couple of eye-catching scores throughout. Class act and the captain led by example.

Galway set another marker in the championship

The manner in how they dismantled Wexford today was most impressive. They outworked and outclassed Wexford particularly in the second half. There appears to be no weak line in any of the units and the absence of Mannion in the full forward line had no effect. Niall Burke, Joseph Cooney chipped in with several scores.

Michael Donoghue and management also issued a warning to the team as well with the withdrawal of Jason Flynn in the opening period. Quiet performances will not be tolerated and the cameo of Monaghan confirmed the correct decision of management in this regard.

All on point for Galway. The question is how they keep sharp leading into the All Ireland series? If they manage this time off well, they are primed to win the Liam McCarthy as other challengers battle it out to even reach the last four. All setup perfectly for Galway.