Fu­ture may be Lim­er­ick’s but Gal­way aren’t fin­ished yet

Ex­pe­ri­ence and the in­flu­ence of Can­ning can edge cham­pi­ons to back-to-back All-Ire­lands

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Seán Mo­ran GAACor­re­spon­dent

You don’t have to force the his­tory out of this. For a start no other All-Ire­land has fea­tured two teams from out­side the top di­vi­sion of the na­tional league. Gal­way are look­ing to re­tain their ti­tle for the first time in 30 years whereas Lim­er­ick are on the verge of clos­ing the most an­guished gap in hurl­ing, the one stretch­ing back 45 years to their most re­cent tri­umph.

Sun­day’s fi­nal also comes as the fi­nale to a re­mark­able cham­pi­onship, or­gan­ised on the ex­per­i­men­tal ba­sis of round robins in the prov­inces, which de­liv­ered a se­quence of riv­et­ing dra­mas played out against the blue skies of the best sum­mer in over 40 years.

There is no doubt we are also see­ing the two best teams in the fi­nal. Clare might de­mur, hav­ing beaten Lim­er­ick in Mun­ster and af­ter the thinnest of mar­gins sep­a­rated them from Gal­way at the end of a re­played semi-fi­nal, but they had chances both days and couldn’t take them.

It’s as well to state from the out­set that it’s hard to sep­a­rate the teams – not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause they’re so well matched but be­cause they bring dif­fer­ent at­tributes to the fi­nal. So ex­u­ber­ant and ir­re­sistible has Lim­er­ick’s blos­som­ing been through­out the sum­mer that if the match is to end in a big win for ei­ther side, it’s more likely to be John Kiely’s young team.

If ex­pe­ri­ence is to drive a way through for the win­ners, Gal­way have the more force­ful equip­ment in what is a fifth fi­nal in seven years, count­ing the 2012 re­play.

The semi-fi­nals were re­mark­able con­tests. Lim­er­ick saved a six-point deficit in the last 10 min­utes be­fore pulling away from Cork in ex­tra-time. Gal­way twice took what looked like an iron grip on Clare only to have to sur­vive a back­lash that nearly top­pled them.

It will be a fas­ci­nat­ing last 10 min­utes if Lim­er­ick are com­ing from be­hind or neck-and-neck and Gal­way need to keep them at arm’s length.

Through­out Gal­way’s pro­tracted sum­mer the one mo­ment when they looked to be in dan­ger of ac­tu­ally los­ing a match was af­ter Aron Shanagher’s goal in Croke Park put Clare ahead for the first time at the start of the sec­ond half of ex­tra time.

Stayed afloat

The two main lead­ers on the team, Joe Can­ning and cap­tain, David Burke then had to go off in quick suc­ces­sion but some­how Gal­way stayed afloat and in fact could have won be­fore their op­po­nents had to con­jure up the re­play.

It has been the cham­pi­ons’ es­sen­tial build­ing block that the spine of the team was sorted out by Micheál Donoghue and from Daithí Burke at full back to Jonathan Glynn at full for­ward it is still strong but there has to be some ques­tion mark over Gearóid McIn­er­ney, not alone be­cause calf in­juries are so hard to man­age but be­cause the as­sur­ances about his re­cov­ery were a lit­tle too quick to emerge af­ter he missed the Clare re­play.

Lim­er­ick won’t re­peat Clare’s mis­take of leav­ing Hurler of the Year con­tender Pádraic Mannion in a free role if he has to move from the wing to deputise for McIn­er­ney.

The rest of the cham­pi­ons’ core is still for­mi­da­ble. Glynn has a con­sid­er­able height ad­van­tage over Mike Casey and pro­vided Gal­way use this as an op­tion rather than the whole plan they can con­tinue to reap the ben­e­fit of his om­niv­o­rous ball winning.

In­no­va­tion

At the heart of the at­tack, who will be de­ployed to mark Can­ning? It’s not a role that De­clan Han­non would nor­mally play and if there is to be in­no­va­tion such as ask­ing Dan Mor­ris­sey to hand­cuff him­self to Gal­way’s most im­por­tant player, will that have a dis­rup­tive im­pact on Lim­er­ick?

Then there is also the free-form chal­lenge of con­tain­ing the move­ment and shoot­ing of Cathal Mannion and Conor Whe­lan.

For Gal­way the un­cer­tainty over cor­ner back John Han­bury’s fit­ness masks the ques­tion of who would be bet­ter to mark Aaron Gil­lane, who threat­ens one day to blow apart some team. Pre­sum­ably the an­swer is Adrian Tuo­hey but the other cor­ner for­ward Graeme Mulc­ahy has been abra­sive and a ral­ly­ing point for Lim­er­ick.

Physique

The teams are well matched in terms of physique al­though the cham­pi­ons are stronger, which can have a ma­jor bear­ing on cen­tre­field where the un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive Dar­ragh O’Dono­van and Cian Lynch nonethe­less haven’t met a pair of big-game op­po­nents like Burke and Coen.

Most peo­ple be­lieve Lim­er­ick won’t be af­fected by the fi­nal as an oc­ca­sion and cite the semi-fi­nal ex­pe­ri­ence, which they han­dled con­sum­mately. But fi­nals are dif­fer­ent. Only once in the last 22 years has a team with no All-Ire­land medal­list rolled along to their first fi­nal and won.

Over the past 40 years de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons have been more likely to win fi­nals than lose them with the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals the more com­mon stum­bling block. Gal­way are back – with one match left, ex­pe­ri­ence, lead­ers and in Can­ning, the mod­ern game’s most in­flu­en­tial player.

It’s not pa­tro­n­is­ing Lim­er­ick to be­lieve that this team will win an All-Ire­land at some stage be­cause that’s a con­sen­sus view but there is equally a con­sen­sus that a more proven Gal­way will win this and that mightn’t be wrong, ei­ther.

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