The second part of a blog series focuses on reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions Galway, a side who had to come through an epic Leinster SHC tussle with Kilkenny to secure their place in the last four of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at how the side have performed, identifies the key protagonists and potential areas where Clare could expose and cause the upset.
Galway’s path to the All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final
The inaugural Leinster SHC round robin format posed little issues for the reigning champions. An emphatic opening weekend victory over Offaly in Tullamore the perfect setup for the first Leinster SHC fixture to be played at Pearse Stadium against perennial rival Kilkenny. A fantastic occasion which saw Galway inspired by the mercurial Joe Canning to produce a dominant third quarter to win this contest by eight points.
The road trip to Innovate Park looked like a tricky assignment but Galway dispatched the challenge of Wexford with relative ease; putting the game in the opening period and keeping the hosts at arms length for the second half expending minimum effort. The last round robin fixture against Dublin was an opportunity for fringe players to gain valuable minutes in a competitive setting; an one point win against a determined Dublin side was mission accomplished.
The Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny was incredible viewing; physicality to the fore with scoring opportunities at a premium. Galway were pegged back late at Croke Park by a TJ Reid inspired Kilkenny outfit. The replay in Thurles was an exceptional fixture as Galway management’s decision to deploy Glynn in full forward paid early success; a vital factor in victory as Galway had to withhold a massive Kilkenny fightback in the third quarter. Galway’s finishing kick to close out the game was emphatic with Joe Canning immense. Battle hardened games with Kilkenny a perfect foil for this All Ireland series.
Galway have grown in stature this season. The mantle of reigning championship has being embraced with the usual suspects taking their game to new levels and emerging talent providing timely cameos to management which has seen increased competition for places. Where do you start? Joe Canning. The forward is mercurial; the skill set and what he can do with a silothar is on a different level. His performances this season have steadily improved; his ability to score from either sideline cuts or free kicks is a real asset for the side. His work rate ethos sets the tone and others follow. His scoring return has being excellent this year and Clare’s half back line have a decision to make with the Portumna native. Do they stick to the player but then open space in behind for other attacking threats to roam or do they stick to their positions and see Canning score six to seven points from open play?
Cathal Mannion personally is such a massive talent. The forward has the ability to turn a game with his trademark quality long range scores from either side. His performance against Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC replay was a pure illustration of the talent that the player possesses. His ability to score from long range saw a primary platform for Galway to win this contest in the second half. Mannion’s game management and distribution for the likes of Conor Whelan inside has posed serious questions for opposition defenses.
David Burke is an exemplary captain for Galway. The St.Thomas club man is so selfless in the hard work he puts in game after game. All the fundamentals are present; solid under the dropping ball with excellent pace and power. His distribution from deep to his inside forward line at times is a joy to watch and his ability to link up with back line and forward line has being to the fore. Burke’s tends to revel in the Croke Park surroundings and his performances to date this season would indicate another fine afternoon is in store.
The side collectively are so structured and on point. The defensive power of Daithi Burke and Gearoid McInerney provides the solidity and platform for the Galway back line to prosper. Padraic Mannion has being a standout in his man marking duties this season and his ability to score from distance (0-3) against Dublin will be a key asset if Clare decide to deploy a sweeper inside during periods of the contest. David Burke and Johnny Coen provide defensive nous but significantly attacking threat with their runs from deep to keep the scoreboard ticking over. When you throw in the attacking options of Cooney (Conor and Joseph), Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Conor Whelan, Jonathan Glynn, there is plenty to ponder from a Clare back line perspective along with the likes of Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion.
It is grasping at straws but the goal scoring rate at times could improve. If you take the five goals scored against beleaguered Offaly in the opening round of the championship, Galway have only managed three goals thereafter and when you consider the inside threat of the likes of Conor Whelan and now Jonathan Glynn inside, it is a statistic which no doubt Galway management will be eager to address. Galway keeper situation has being of debate this season. Callanan’s injury layoff has seen James Skehill return to the goals; solid performer but there have being times where the keeper has struggled to command his square. Nine goals conceded in the championship this season is a concern defensively but whether Clare can create the running lines to expose Skehill is an entirely different story given the back line units in front of the net minder.