The first of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Finals takes place this Sunday. NHL champions Galway take on reigning All Ireland Champions Tipperary in an eagerly anticipated tussle. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at both teams and wonders if this Galway’s time to deliver.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships
The often used cliche but I think one that resonates ahead of this tussle. A settled Galway back line against a Tipperary back line where adjustments in the full back line are required. April’s NHL final between the two sides illustrated Galway’s work rate, physicality and ability to stem the Tipperary forward line threat.
Quite a few articles immediately after the game cited Tipperary fatigue on this occasion but if you recall the All Ireland Semi-Final last year, Galway’s back line were well on top for around fifty-five minutes of the contest only for class moments of brilliance from O’Dwyer and John McGrath to wrestle the game away from the Tribesmen.
This Tipperary forward line are so potent and their displays against Dublin and Clare emphasized their movement and quick ball distribution. Bonnar Maher is coming on form at the right time of the season. O’Dwyer, McGrath, Callanan are incredibly dangerous players and any space and time will be punished. Galway need to be on point with their defensive work throughout; any lapses will be pounced upon.
The Galway back line has a more settled look to it. There are question marks on squad depth though if one or two of their regular backs have to be withdrawn due to injury. Greg Lally aside, other defenders on the bench have not had significant game time in this championship season. If injuries do happen to Galway, it will be interesting to see how management react.
However, the Galway back line as an unit have being extremely cohesive. Daithi Burke continues to impress at full back; decisive under the dropping ball and cleaning up on the ground. Callanan in goals has being unerring behind his full back, exceptional shot stopper and puckout strategy on point. Mannion and Tuohy are capable corner backs. Tuohy will be assigned various man marking jobs on the day.
The half-back line has being excellent. McInerney, Mannion and Harte have provided dominance under the dropping ball and provided quality distribution to the likes of David Burke and Joe Canning to instigate attacks. No glaring issues defensively so far but McInerney will face Bonnar Maher who sets the tone for Tipperary. If Bonnar starts well, then Tipperary could be in for an excellent afternoon.
The Tipperary back line has had issues, no way to sugarcoat it. Cathal Barrett, the standout corner back has being out injured. His absence has being missed given the display against Clare where the full back line struggled for cohesion and under the dropping ball. James Barry’s switch to corner back did not work; his position is central and a return to full back may be required. Donagh Maher was excellent in the full back line; his battle with Conor McGrath was a game highlight. Sean O’Brien or Michael Cahill may be drafted into fill the other corner back spot.
I felt sorry for Hamill at the full back position, a role he is not used to playing, plays more in the half-back line. Hamill was indecisive in the aerial exchanges and was then exposed in no man’s land as a result. Tipperary management have had questions to solve in the full back line. It will be interesting to see what they come up with if Barrett is out of the equation.
The Tipperary half-back line has grown in confidence in recent outings starting with Westmeath and Dublin performances. The Clare contest really highlighted the Tipp half back line dominance in the air. Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahey was forced to strike ball to his half-back and midfield areas which were gobbled up by Tipperary such was their dominance in the half-back line.
Padraic and Ronan Maher will look to continue this rich vain in form. Seamus Kennedy most likely will start on the other wing. The return of Glynn to the Galway panel suggests that the Ardrahan clubman could be brought into the mix to unsettle this facet of play if Tipperary have dominance. Intriguing match-ups and tactical battles in this area of the pitch.
The Tipperary goalkeeper situation is also an area of discussion. Gleeson and Mooney have started matches in the championship. Mooney could hardly be faulted for the Clare goal concessions but puck-out strategy has become a prevalent theme in this year’s championship. Both keepers have excellent distribution so it will be interesting to see who fills the number one jersey; another selection headache for Tipperary.
The midfield battle will be a highlight on Sunday. Michael Breen and Brendan Maher will lock horns against David Burke and Johnny Coen (most likely). Maher and Burke will look to game manage, distribute ball quickly into key target men in the attack. Breen will look to make runs from deep to get involved to score from play. Coen will look to track those runs and also provide defensive support to the Galway back line. 50/50 call in this line.
The start of the week; I am already excited on this fixture. The big unknown is Tipperary defensively. Have the Tipperary management provided answers to the clear issues in the full back line? If they have, then Tipperary have an outstanding chance but with Barrett’s absence could be critical particularly with the attacking threat posed by Galway inside with Niall Burke, Conor Cooney and Cathal Mannion looking to expose any issues defensively.
Slight edge to Galway right now (two / three points) given their assured route to this stage. Questions will be posed by Tipperary with their forward line play to Galway and will memories of the last ten minutes from last year’s fixture come back into Galway players heads? It is enthralling to anticipate. Galway will be favorites to progress but Tipperary are coming into this with momentum built in recent. Expect fireworks.