READ­ING BE­TWEEN THE LINES

So what of the match-ups in to­day’s All-Ire­land final? runs the rule over the key bat­tles that await us as the Déise and Tribes­men go to war

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SPORT | GAELIC GAMES -

IN our half-time anal­y­sis of the sec­ond semi-final on Sky, I com­mented that with sweep­ers at both ends of the field and space at a premium, the game was be­ing played on Water­ford’s terms. De­nied the type of shoot-out that would have favoured them, Cork were ef­fec­tively try­ing to beat Water­ford play­ing Water­ford’s game. That’s not an easy thing to do, ir­re­spec­tive of what might have hap­pened if Damien Ca­ha­lane hadn’t been sent off.

That’s the quandary fac­ing

WITH Daithí Burke at full-back and Gearoid McIn­er­ney at num­ber six, Gal­way now have sta­bil­ity as well as a strong phys­i­cal pres­ence in their cen­tral spine. All round, they’ve been bet­ter de­fen­sively in 2017, but a lot of that has to do with the help the de­fence has been get­ting from those fur­ther up the field.

Nonethe­lesss, John Han­bury has played well since com­ing in for Paul Killeen, Padraig Man­nion looks more at home on the wing, and Adrian

CON­SID­ER­ING how well they’ve played to date, both Colm Cal­lanan and Stephen O’Ke­effe will be go­ing to the All Star ban­quet later this year. Both have proven shot-stop­ping abil­ity and are play­ing with the con­fi­dence you need in a game of mag­ni­tude.

In terms of puck-out strat­egy, both sides are blessed with an ar­ray of ball-win­ners in the mid­dle third of the field. Johnny Glynn’s re­turn is mas­sive in that sense, be­cause it in­creases the op­tions avail­able to Cal­lanan. With Can­ning at num­ber 11 and 6’ 4” Joseph Cooney on the other this Micheál Donoghue this af­ter­noon. It’s not that Gal­way haven’t faced down and beaten teams that play a sweeper be­fore. They coped com­fort­ably with Clare in last year’s quar­ter-final, and showed the re­quired pa­tience, es­pe­cially early on, be­fore ac­cel­er­at­ing away from Wexford in this year’s Leinster final. But Gal­way had the play­ers at both ends of the field to dom­i­nate those sides phys­i­cally. Water­ford are a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion. Nei­ther Clare nor

Wexford pos­sess any­thing like the same Tuohy’s pace and ath­leti­cism are use­ful as­sets to have in the full-back line, es­pe­cially given the space that Water­ford will look to cre­ate.

Ai­dan Harte was man of the match in the sweeper role against Clare last year and reprised it in the Leinster final so he’ll be the ex­tra de­fender.

Be­cause Water­ford’s at­tack­ing ap­proach is any­thing but con­ven­tional, Gal­way will have

Ilong for

BRICK WALSH, Kevin Mo­ran, David Burke and Joe Can­ning. Many would con­sider it an in­jus­tice were any of those four to end their ca­reers with­out the All-Ire­land medal they crave — es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the ser­vice and lead­er­ship they’ve given to their coun­ties.

But ref­er­enc­ing the in­cred­i­ble odyssey that this sum­mer has be­come for the Mayo foot­ballers, Colm O’Rourke wrote last week that some­times there is no jus­tice in court, and of­ten less on the sport­ing field.

The good news is that two of wing, Cal­lanan will be go­ing most of the af­ter­noon.

With Brick, Glee­son and Kevin Mo­ran all avail­able as tar­gets, O’Ke­effe too is likely to be try­ing to find the big men be­yond mid­field. That said, nei­ther ’keeper, with sweep­ers at both ends of the field, is likely to ig­nore the fact that the po­ten­tial to go short is likely to be there. In that sense, Water­ford are the ones likely to be more adept at work­ing it up the field, given their style of play.

Again, it’s an as­pect that both man­agers will have gone over and in the big matches in Croke Park, the side that dom­i­nates the aerial ex­changes in­vari­ably comes out on top. phys­i­cal­ity and pri­mary ball-win­ning abil­ity that this Water­ford side has.

With the at­tack­ing flair they pos­sess, Derek McGrath will have iden­ti­fied the Gal­way for­wards who pose the big­gest threat, and thus the key match-ups he has to get right. Noel Con­nors looks a good fit for Conor Whe­lan, who’s had a great sea­son; Barry Cough­lan at full-back should have re­spon­si­bil­ity for Conor Cooney, with Philip Ma­hony pick­ing up Joseph Cooney, as­sum­ing they play as se­lected, at numbers 14 and 10 re­spec­tively.

The big quandary, of course, is who Water­ford de­ploy to pick up Joe thought long and hard about how they need to set up. As­sum­ing Shane Ben­nett con­tin­ues to play in what amounts to a one-man full-for­ward line, Burke will pick him up, with Harte play­ing deeper, al­most as an aux­il­iary full-back, to cut out the goal threat. Af­ter that, I think they’ll go man for man and it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see who marks Brick, given the T’S stat­ing the obvious that Kevin Mo­ran (pic­tured left) and Jamie Bar­ron are in­te­gral to the Water­ford game plan, and if the Hurler of the Year award was be­ing dished out to­day, they would be cen­tral to the dis­cus­sion.

Bar­ron was the Déise’s best player in the Mun­ster semi-final de­feat to Cork back in June; Mo­ran was man of the match and scorer of the cru­cial goal in the quar­ter-final win over Wexford. Mo­ran com­pletely negated Michael Fen­nelly’s in­flu­ence in the that quar­tet will re­alise a life­time’s am­bi­tion this af­ter­noon. And Burke or Mo­ran will have the added hon­our of cap­tain­ing their side, of rais­ing the holy grail over their head and declar­ing a famine of­fi­cially over — be it ei­ther 29 or 58 years.

For the two of the quar­tet that lose, the wait will go on and pos­si­bly on and on and on, be­cause in sport, there are no guar­an­tees. That said, with the av­er­age age of both start­ing 15s iden­ti­cal, 25-and-a-half to be pre­cise, these sides are in their prime so there will surely be other op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially for the Gal­way pair. Can­ning. In that re­gard, the loss of ar­guably their best man-marker, Conor Glee­son, is a sig­nif­i­cant blow. McGrath would surely have had

Glee­son, with his abil­ity to crawl all over his op­po­nent with­out ac­tu­ally foul­ing him, in mind for Can­ning. That job is now likely to fall to Dar­ragh Fives. Phys­i­cally, he’s a bet­ter fit for Can­ning in­flu­ence he has been able to ex­ert, es­pe­cially in the last two games.

Water­ford cer­tainly don’t have the same ar­ray of shoot­ers as Gal­way, so they need to be ef­fi­cient and ac­cu­rate, par­tic­u­larly with their lon­grange shoot­ing. Nei­ther Jake Dil­lon nor Brick on the wings are go­ing to wreak havoc on the score­board from play, but they will fight tooth and nail for pos­ses­sion and look to ei­ther draw frees or get it to Austin Glee­son (pic­tured), Pau­ric Ma­hony, or one of the mid­field­ers com­ing in sup­port.

If Can­ning pro­vides the X-fac­tor at one end of the field, it’s Glee­son who’s ca­pa­ble of weav­ing magic at sea­son-turn­ing qual­i­fier win over Kilkenny, a game that Bar­ron al­most sin­gle-hand­edly turned Water­ford’s way in the first pe­riod of ex­tra-time.

But if they were good on those oc­ca­sions, they were im­mense in the semi-final win over Cork. With 2-5 from play be­tween them, Mo­ran had three in­spi­ra­tional scores in the open­ing half, break­ing tack­les and pow­er­ing for­ward, while Bar­ron wreaked havoc with a li­cence to get for­ward in the sec­ond half when he got those two vi­tal goals.

If Water­ford are to win, you sense they have to get on top in this sec­tor,

BE­FORE the semi-fi­nals were played, I felt the win­ner of this year’s All-Ire­land would come from the Gal­way v Tip­per­ary match. Go­ing back to last year, Tipp were far too good for Water­ford in the Mun­ster final, but had only a point to spare over the Tribes­men in that epic All-Ire­land semi-final. Kilkenny beat Water­ford, but were well beaten in the final by Tipp. Draw­ing a line from that form, you have to con­clude the Tribes­men were ahead of the Déise 12 months ago.

If any­thing, Gal­way are bet­ter, fit­ter, and stronger than a year ago, and with both the Leinster and Na­tional League

Even though he’s been around for what feels like for­ever, Can­ning is still only 28, with Burke a year younger at 27. But hav­ing al­ready lost a pair of fi­nals in 2012 (af­ter a re­play) and 2015, there’s pres­sure not to lose a third. That’s some­thing no one wants on their CV.

Mo­ran, mean­while, has turned 30, which makes Brick, at 34, very much the el­der states­man. Their per­for­mances this sum­mer have be­lied their age. They have been in­spi­ra­tional for Water­ford.

It’s nearly a decade ago now, but like their Gal­way coun­ter­parts, they too have tasted the bit­ter pill than Glee­son, but he mightn’t have the same dogged­ness and de­fen­sive in­stincts and that could be cru­cial be­cause it’s a key bat­tle Water­ford might have to win to come out on top. Of course there’s a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity that Gal­way won’t give Water­ford what they’re ex­pect­ing ei­ther. What hap­pens for ex­am­ple if Johnny Glynn (pic­tured) lands in on the edge of the square, with Conor Cooney out on the wing? Can­ning could end up any­where. the other, and who to put on him is prob­a­bly the big­gest de­ci­sion Micheál Donoghue will have to make. Re­move him from the equa­tion and it’s hard to see Water­ford get­ting enough scores to win.

McIn­er­ney has the tem­per­a­ment and aerial prow­ess, but will Donoghue want his cen­tre-back dragged away from the mid­dle, where he’s been so ef­fec­tive? Glee­son didn’t score for 50 min­utes in the semi-final, but fin­ished with 1-2 as well as the as­sist for Jamie Bar­ron’s game-break­ing goal when the match opened up. He has pro­duced the goods on the big stage in Croke Park, and af­ter dodg­ing a ma­jor bul­let and no one will be more con­scious of that than David Burke (pic­tured right) and Johnny Coen, their di­rect op­po­nents. Gal­way’s cap­tain was sur­pris­ingly be­low par against Tipp, where Bren­dan Ma­her was head and shoul­ders above ev­ery­body. But Coen was in­dus­tri­ous and ef­fec­tive, hit­ting two points and keep­ing his head at the death to find Can­ning with the pass for the win­ner.

I can’t see Burke hav­ing as lit­tle im­pact and, frankly, Gal­way can’t af­ford him to have an­other off day, be­cause this sec­tor could well be where this game is won and lost. ti­tles in the bag, they are play­ing with the con­fi­dence and be­lief that their time has come. Logic de­crees that if their for­wards click and they play any­thing close to their best, they could win this match by six or seven points. My head, so, says Gal­way.

Why then do I gen­uinely think that this is still a 50-50 game?

Be­cause my gut in­stinct is telling me that Water­ford are ca­pa­ble of pulling this off. They’re also a bet­ter side than they were last year and have a core of play­ers in the form of their lives. Gal­way have never beaten them in the cham­pi­onship. I was in Walsh Park in 2006, Thurles in 2009 and again in 2011, all games that Gal­way might have ex­pected to win, but didn’t or couldn’t. of All-Ire­land final de­feat, or rather an­ni­hi­la­tion, at the hands of that great Kilkenny team play­ing at the height of their pow­ers in 2008. Fa­ther Time isn’t on their side, so the like­li­hood of ei­ther of them, and Brick es­pe­cially, get­ting an­other shot is that bit slim­mer. They have to make this one count.

For the neu­trals among us, it’s a final to savour, and what an oc­ca­sion it prom­ises to be. At the end of it all, the lives of the 33 or 34 play­ers on the ex­tended panel that wins will be al­tered for­ever. And a pair of play­ers will have ce­mented their sta­tus as two of their county’s greats in the process. And we haven’t men­tioned Cathal Man­nion, who’s an­other fin­isher and po­ten­tial match-win­ner that Water­ford have to ac­count for.

So if the Gal­way for­wards haven’t met a de­fence like Water­ford’s, the re­verse is also true: the Water­ford de­fence hasn’t met a for­ward line as po­tent or phys­i­cally strong as Gal­way’s. Even with Tadhg de Búrca back and man­ning the D, this Gal­way side will get scores. To have any chance, Water­ford need to limit the dam­age and in par­tic­u­lar not con­cede goals. Achiev­ing that ob­jec­tive will give them a fight­ing chance. in avoid­ing a sus­pen­sion to be here, will surely feel he owes it to his team-mates to per­form.

The other fac­tor Gal­way have to pre­pare for is the subs Water­ford will in­evitably in­tro­duce. Donoghue mightn’t be los­ing any sleep wor­ry­ing about Brian O’Hal­lo­ran or Tommy Ryan, but Mau­rice Shana­han’s size and aerial abil­ity, Colin Dun­ford’s pace, and the fin­ish­ing abil­ity of Pa­trick Cur­ran and Stephen Ben­nett are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

They all need to be ac­counted for and if the Water­ford bench can make a siz­able con­tri­bu­tion, the odds on them win­ning get shorter. Even this year, fac­ing a sec­ond-string Water­ford side in the League quar­ter-final, they strug­gled in Salthill to put them away. Don’t think that doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause deep down, the Water­ford play­ers have no fear and be­lieve they can win.

Then there’s the Brick fac­tor and what he’s given to his county, the loy­alty the play­ers feel to­wards Derek McGrath and Dan Shana­han, and what this group has been through to­gether over the last four years. Men­tally, they have shown the tough­ness re­quired to win an All-Ire­land this sum­mer.

Who wins? My fa­ther would kill me if I said any­thing dif­fer­ent. Pro­vided they show the pa­tience and self-dis­ci­pline re­quired, Gal­way can edge it.

WATER­FORD DE­FENCE v GAL­WAY AT­TACK GAL­WAY DE­FENCE V WATER­FORD AT­TACK GOAL­KEEP­ERS and PUCK-OUT STRAT­EGY MID­FIELD CON­CLU­SION

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