Shane Stapleton analyses Sunday's league final and examines what we learned about Galway's performance
It was a day divorced from reality. Manchester United players paraded around with 'Ibrahimovic' and 'Marcos Rojo' t-shirts as though their comrades had lost their lives in ’nam.
A couple of coins placed over the eyes to pay the ferryman Charon to take them across the river Styx to the underworld. Sombre? Meaningful? Hmm, more like the height of absurdity for two men with boo-boos on their knees. Grown-ups take their medicine, and live in the real world.
Many miles away, in Limerick, 'Callanan' t-shirts were not worn by the Tipperary players to comfort their thumb-stricken team-mate, though it was a sobering 70 minutes for the county all the same. The Drom-Inch man’s absence, it must be noted, is not wholly relevant to the end result because Galway should've won by far more.
Callanan might have stuck a few more expenses on the bill, but the Tribe had plenty left over to cover the cost. Forwards like him don’t get ball on the front foot when the opposition hold the upper hand all over the field.
Galway have had enough questions marks thrown at them to stitch together a Riddler suit. Finally, they answered some, and in almost every part of the field. The Tribesmen hammered every hammer worth hammering. It was whack-a-mole on every Tipp man who ever pulled up a pair of togs.
This is the third important game in a row over three seasons (including two All-Ireland semi-finals) where the maroon men have bullied their neighbours, and this time the levee broke. A 16-point defeat which flattered the Premier.
In the long run, perhaps it was a good thing that Patrick 'Bonner' Maher’s late shot came back off the crossbar because the last thing Mick Ryan needs is a coat of gloss on that disaster-piece.
Let’s be straight: Galway have the players to win the All-Ireland for a few years now, and the question has been whether they have the leaders and team ethic. That latter tenet does not refer to workrate – which they most certainly have in most positions — but to inter-play.
Though they bulldozed the Liam MacCarthy Cup holders, beginning with half-back domination which ensured fast, early ball into their forwards, the only negative is that they could’ve done so by far more.
Too often they launched pot shots from deep as Waterford do, even though they had dangerous men inside to aim at. Should Micháel Donoghue settle this issue, and his side find the man in the best position more often, they’ll be difficult to stop.
A great many pundits, present company included, predicted a Tipp win but that ignores the evidence of what we’ve seen before: Galway’s power, pace and brutishness ruffles Tipp’s feathers. Just as Kilkenny have done to the blue and gold in the past 15 years.
Adrian Tuohy personified Galway's physical approach during Sunday's league final. Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Ryan’s side weren’t allowed hurl around maroon objects, they were forced to go through them, which they could not do. Hence Tipp men picking themselves up off the seat of their pants.
It’s easy to hammer the Tipp forwards but they were getting slow ball in, and when deliveries are sluggish or hang in the air, it’s a back’s ball all day. There’s little more enjoyable as a back than lining up a man who is waiting underneath and smashing him while claiming the ball. Daithí Burke, Padraic Mannion and Gearoid McInerney will have been smiling like Cheshire cats all evening.
Callanan would’ve found it difficult to breathe out there too; though his movement might have added a little more dynamism to what was a relatively static set of Tipp targets, at times.
The Tribal spine is buttressed by strong vertebrae: Colm Callanan is an exceptional keeper, Daithi Burke and McInerney are an imposing three and six, David Burke perhaps the form midfielder over the past three seasons, Joe Canning lit the game up at 11, while the inside line roasted Tipp’s corner-backs. Conor Cooney (injured) and Johnny Glynn provide further options to what looks a strong and settled team.
As for Tipp, we’ve warned before against this talk of an amazing panel. The league final brought home 70 minutes of uncomfortable truths. Just like Kilkenny and Brian Cody, Ryan needs his strongest 15 out there to win decisive games. Let’s not forget, Tipp have been strong-armed before when flat: Waterford ’08, Cork ’10, Kilkenny ’11. Ryan was involved in the first two of those during Liam Sheedy’s reign, so he’s no greenhorn. He’ll identify the issues.
Immaterial to the results, but Darren Gleeson might have done better with Cathal Mannion’s goal, a week after letting in a soft one against Wexford’s Liam Ryan. All Star corner-back Michael Cahill is struggling or form so Ryan needs to bolster his options there — particularly after the winter retirements of Conor O’Brien and Paddy Stapleton. John O’Keeffe excelled in that position against Kilkenny recently but injury is rarely too far from his door. Donagh Maher started against Dublin, Waterford, and Clare but hasn’t been seen since due to a combination of concussion and hamstring issues. A left-field suggestion: pacy Niall O’Meara plays centre back for his club Kilruane and could be an auxiliary option.
When your team is on the back foot, there is no more horrid a place on a hurling field than the corner-back spots. David Burke, Canning and the like can aim into 40 yards of space, and let a Jason Flynn or Conor Whelan turn the hob on full.
What else can Tipperary do to prevent another repeat? For starters, Jason Forde is a stylish hurler, but not the type of dynamic workaholic needed at midfield today. His positioning was based on the fantasy that he can float and spray ball around all day. It would’ve been a tough week for the Silvermines native.
For Ryan, it’s all well and good having a supposed hard-working half-forward line, but when they don’t at least break even, you’re on the back foot. Bonner will come in and Noel McGrath may well return to this zone.
The Maher brothers were on the periphery in the half-back line and their shape was disrupted by Galway, who showed the movement necessary to open up an All-Ireland winning defence. The middle-eight need to win more primary ball to protect their entire defence.
Pray for Tipp? Well as Zlatan and Rojo look down on us from heaven, perhaps they’ll spare a thought for Ryan and his bedraggled bunch. Though as much as Donoghue won’t be counting his chickens before they’ve hatched, Ryan won’t yet be culling hens that have delivered for him before. Tis early days, though Galway have shown their teeth.