September 3rd. The day of reckoning for both Galway and Waterford. An unique final pairing and one that promises to be explosive and dramatic. Two sides who have suffered final anguish in the recent past, a day to a certain extent to right some wrongs of past failings and to engrave management and squad player names into county folklore. In the first of a two part preview, Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the Galway challenge looking at how they advanced to the final and who needs to stand up and be counted this Sunday.
Galway’s path to the All Ireland Final
The message of intent some would say was issued loud and clear in April at the surroundings of the Gaelic Grounds where Galway won the NHL with a performance which had many in hurling circles sit up and notice. The emphatic manner in which they disposed of the Tipperary challenge that day has continued in this season’s championship campaign.
Once upon a time, a Leinster SHC fixture against Dublin in Tullamore would have being seen as a banana skin, a fixture where Galway would need to be on top of their game to advance. This time around, they negotiated the Dublin challenge with the minimum of fuss as they went through the gears either side of half-time to win with plenty to spare. All lines were dominant with Daithi and David Burke catching the eye with defensive and midfield play. Joe Canning was also prominent, eager to get involved; his work rate set the tone for others to follow. A fourteen point win was another signal of intent that the NHL final win was no fluke.
The Leinster semi-final fixture against Offaly could be best described as an one sided affair, others would be more critical of the Offaly performance on show. Galway continuing their form with a cohesive performance and seeing the emergence of Conor Whelan as a viable scoring threat inside in the full forward line as well out the field. Thirty-three points was scored by Galway on the day and their nineteen point winning margin was an accurate assessment on a dominant display.
The much anticipated Leinster SHC final was seen by many as a true acid test of Galway’s title credentials. After an evenly matched first twenty-five minutes, Galway’s experience and game management came to the fore drawing clear of the sweeper orientated Wexford setup with an effective performance. The usual suspects again to the fore for Galway and the nine point win showcased the talents of all the Galway forwards with several eye-catching scores from play. Galway confirmed that they were the real deal and more significantly answered the critics who thought that the sweeper system would pose issues. Mission accomplished.
The All Ireland Semi-Final against Tipperary was a sublime contest. Neither side gave an inch on the day. Galway on reflection were the better side throughout, their key defensive players producing excellent performances. It was the day that Gearoid McInerney announced himself at center-back. A towering performance from the Oranmore-Maree club man. His battle with Bonnar Maher was superb viewing and his second half cameo where he dominated aerial possession was on point. Joe Canning after a shaky opening twenty minutes produced when it mattered. The talisman was lights out in the final quarter of this contest and his game winning point is a sporting moment of the Irish sporting year. A sublime effort, under immense pressure to seal his side’s final appearance. Battle hardened and confident, Galway enter this final with renewed vigor.
Key Factors for Galway in winning Liam McCarthy
Balanced Galway forward line scoring threat required
All Ireland finals are sometimes decided by players who are not highlighted in the preview notes. Joe Canning is Galway’s attacking talisman but Michael O’Donoghue and Galway management will be the first to know that they were overly reliant on the Portumna native in the closing quarter exchanges. Canning provided all the scores in that period of play; a repeat against Waterford and Galway could be struggling.
Galway’s forward line is stacked with talent. Cathal Mannion is a player who has had a quiet summer by his own standards. Injury plagued season but is hitting form at the right time. Mannion is a superb shooter from distance and Galway will need the player to hit a couple of scores from play as Waterford setup with the sweeper system. Mannion is one of several threats.
Jason Flynn if involved could play a huge role in the outcome of this contest. The Tommy Larkin’s clubman was instrumental in the NHL win; a confidence player, he scored early and never looked back. Flynn will hope to feature and provide the goal scoring threat required to give breathing space for Galway. Niall Burke and Conor Cooney are incredibly talented hurlers. Cooney’s ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over will be crucial; his quick shooting action will pose Waterford with endless problems.
Conor Whelan has had yet again an excellent season. The Kinvara club man is a superb target man in the full forward line; his physique belies his young age and he has added scoring prowess to his work rate and skill set from last year. Whelan showed in the recent All Ireland U21 semi-final that given any goal opportunity, he will score. It is crucial that Galway’s attacking units provide a balanced scoring threat to complement the influence of Joe Canning who will be double marked by Waterford for long periods.
Coen’s performance will dictate Galway glory
Johnny Coen has had an interesting season. The Loughrea clubman has being assigned the role of midfield lynchpin; complementing the mercurial David Burke and supporting his colleagues in defense and attack. Coen’s cameo for the Joe Canning game winning point in the All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final a perfect example of his selfless work ethic for the team.
Coen will be faced with a different assignment this week. His role presumably will be to keep tabs on the sensational Waterford midfielder Jamie Barron who has being a pivotal figure for Waterford against Kilkenny and Cork in the All Ireland series. Barron’s work rate and ability to make lung bursting runs from deep to support his forward line has being a hallmark of Waterford this season. His extra time cameo against Kilkenny was nothing short of sensational. His runs from deep created a quick 1-1 which reset the platform for Waterford to smash the hoodoo of not beating their near neighbors.
Barron against Cork was on point as well particularly in the closing quarter where Cork exposed due to the red card of Damien Cahalane conceded space inside defensively and Barron was the player to benefit; running from deep, evading Cork midfield to score a superb goal. If Jamie Barron has an excellent performance on Sunday, chances are that Waterford will be bringing out Liam McCarthy down to the Quays on Monday night.
The role of Coen as you can see is so important for Galway. It cannot be understated; his performance is going to be for the sake of the team. He will need to do the dirty work unnoticed in the middle third. He will need to track Barron at every opportunity; his conditioning will be tested by Barron. Coen will need David Burke to assist from time to time but Burke’s distribution and need to advance further up the pitch necessitates the need for the Loughrea clubman to perform these duties. A vital role. If Coen can nullify Barron, Galway have seen off one of Waterford’s outside player threats.
David Burke – Captain Fantastic
Put quite simply, David Burke will need to produce a performance of composure, game management and poise. At times, Burke struggled to get into the All Ireland Semi-Final contest; was nervy at times. Burke’s distribution, ability to evade defenders to score from deep is a prerequisite for Galway to win on Sunday. The platform for Galway’s forward line dominance depends on how Burke can start; his distribution to Canning is a standout component. Canning relishes ball from Burke whose precision is beyond reproach.
The St.Thomas clubman is a player whose vast experience will be a huge asset for Galway. He will look to lead by example, set the tone with some early possession wins and look to get players such as Canning, Whelan, Cooney involved. His partnership with Coen on Sunday will be tested particularly when faced with the in-form Jamie Barron. The plus point for Galway is that without suspended Waterford midfielder Conor Gleeson, Waterford are going to have a brand new midfield pairing. Conor Gleeson will be a loss; his work rate and skill set will be a miss and has formed an efficient partnership with Barron.
All about the Joe, it is all about Joe Canning
Joe Canning is a player whose playing resume has all major hurling accolades except for one: Liam McCarthy. The All Ireland final on Sunday potentially is a defining watershed for a player who has being a standout in the sport for the last decade. Canning has it all; first touch, aerial dominance, sideline and free taking prowess and ability to create chances out of absolutely nothing.
Waterford’s tactical approach to Canning will be fascinating. Do they deploy a man marker for the Portumna player? Does someone like Darragh Fives following Canning and put him under pressure throughout. It is a tall order. Canning may be tested from a disciplinary point of view. Will Waterford look to rattle Canning early to see if they can provoke a reaction? It is a final, emotions will be running high.
Joe Canning may need to offload scoring opportunities to his colleagues more this weekend. The likes of Mannion, Cooney, Whelan and Burke could conceivably benefit from the improved time and space afforded due to Waterford focusing in on Canning. It is a subtle balancing act for Waterford. Galway have serious forwards who could also win this game as well. Canning is a predominant figure ahead of this final and one that Galway hurling fans will hope will be raising Liam McCarthy after 5pm on Sunday.