AS THE ACTION hots up for the remainder of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship, TheScore.ie will be joined by Daithí Regan as he brings his expert opinion of the key moments that will decide the destination of the Liam McCarthy Cup this year.
Daithí is a former Offaly hurler who picked up All-Ireland, Leinster and National League medals during his career with the Faithful county and also was part of the Birr sides that won claimed All-Ireland club crowns in 1995 and 1998.
Currently Regan is an established hurling analyst for TV3 and Newstalk, appearing regularly on the station’s Off The Ball programme, and in his first column today for TheScore., he reflects on Galway’s semi-final triumph over Cork yesterday afternoon.
THERE WERE TIMES during the first-half of yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park when I feared for Galway’s chances of victory. Of course it was always going to be impossible for Galway to replicate their Leinster final performance. In that game, they had about 13 players dominating their positions for 70 minutes but it’s very rare that a team exerts that level of control and particularly difficult in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Still there was a lack of pure hurling to Galway’s first-half play yesterday and it looked like it could cost them. They looked bereft of ideas and were too focused on the modern strategy of possession hurling. I shared a cup of coffee with Johnny Pilkington this morning and my former Offaly teammate was of a similar viewpoint.
But in the second-half they were reasonably good and they survived to take the honors. They were helped by Cork’s poor gameplan which saw them hit aimless ball to their attack in contrast to Cork’s excellent deliveries against Waterford. I couldn’t understand why Cork did not isolate Luke O’Farrell like they did against Waterford to utilise his speed yesterday.
Those tactics helped Galway get on top and defensively they were outstanding. Fergal Moore was magnificent, Tony Óg Regan is a good solid centre-back, I think David Collins is a great hurler and despite some recent concerns I had heard about his club form with Sarsfields, Kevin Hynes gave little away at full-back. The real plus for Galway at the back this year is how much Niall Donoghue and Johnny Coen have added to their side. Coen reminds me of Gerry McInerney from the great Galway team of the 80s. He has a flamboyance in how he bursts onto the ball and crucially never wastes possession when releasing it from defence.
The vibes from the Cork camp after the match were positive with Jimmy Barry-Murphy speaking of the progress they made this year. But I’d take a different view and would worry about their future. Paudie O’Sullivan worked his socks off and was their leading attacker but it didn’t happen for the rest of his colleagues up front. Conor Lehane was quiet yesterday but he has a great future ahead of him and in time he’ll play on Cork teams that will win All-Ireland titles.
That may be take longer than they’d hope for though. Their attack will come good in time but I would have concerns in defence. Tom Kenny and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín demonstrated again yesterday what incredible servants they have been to their county. But they won’t remain defensive institutions forever and I wonder are their replacements for those guys ready to step up.
Galway’s Joe Canning and Joseph Cooney celebrate at the final whistle. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
When the TV camera moved onto Joe Canning after the match, I think it was apparent immediately that he understood what the victory meant and what stage he was now going to play on. I was delighted for the chap. Someone of Joe Canning’s talent deserves to play in an All-Ireland final and he was excellent, along with David Burke, in the Galway attack yesterday.
But there is a huge weight of expectation now on Joe’s shoulders, far greater than what either Henry Shefflin or Lar Corbett will experience on September 9th. If either of them didn’t perform, Kilkenny and Tipperary have other players who could step up to the plate. It’s different for Joe as he is Galway’s talisman. I think back to 2006 when he was going for his third successive All-Ireland minor title and he just got suffocated with the weight of the occasion. The challenge now is to avoid that.
The rest of his teammates face a major challenge as well. Anthony Cunningham will be pleased with the semi-final victory but the game showed up deficiencies. Young Conor Cooney was taken off again, Niall Burke was not hugely effective and while Damien Hayes ran amok at times, he has not achieved that in a real cauldron atmosphere. People may see that as overly critical but I feel while Hayes has achieved that with Portumna, there is still a question mark over him with the Galway seniors.
The pressure Galway will be under during the All-Ireland final will be suffocating. The intensity and aggression of yesterday’s game will be raised. Think back to 2009 All-Ireland final and how that was a learning curve for Tipperary in terms of the physical battle they encountered. Galway did not receive that level of ferocity against Kilkenny in the Leinster final because they were so much on top and they didn’t receive it yesterday because Cork were not able to truly test them. On September 9th they will face that type of battle.
The key issue is are they capable of responding to it.