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Galway’s tactical landslide victory

Earlier this year, Galway attacker Damien Hayes said his team needed to start games better… but against Kilkenny.

The Maroons were 16 points up before the kingpins registered a meaningful shot from play and it made for one of the biggest shocks in hurling in recent years.

It wasn’t because Galway won, but because the Tribesmen gave Kilkenny what they have been dishing out to teams for years – a painful beating.

Ruthless is an adjective commonly attached to Brian Cody’s management style but Galway’s superiority didn’t even include that.

Chance after chance went a begging, while errors at the back allowed the Cats gain respectability on the score-sheet. Indeed Galway won because they showed none to the champions in how they approached the game.

Look at it this way, in the Leinster semi-final, Dublin prepared for failure by setting up to physically dominate Kilkenny. This option alone does not have a high success rate because a team must capitalise with clever play.

Now Galway did get plenty of hits in during the game but it was their pace, skill and interchanging that set up victory and it was surreal to watch Kilkenny being destroyed in that first half.

Though there were certain similarities with the 2010 All-Ireland final, when Kilkenny last lost in the championship. Galway moved Kilkenny out of position as Tipp had; Kilkenny only got one score from open play in 23 minutes in that final, while it took over 30 minutes to get a first from play on Sunday; but again injuries contributed.

That is why so few are willing to write off Kilkenny; Michael Rice was outstanding when he came on and he, along with his namesake Fennelly, will return in midfield while JJ Delaney might have been the biggest loss of all.

Yet there are many areas of concern for Cody. His long-vaunted half-back line looked out of sorts, while his forward line was largely curbed, with the exception of Richie Power and to some extent, Henry Shefflin later on.

In total, Kilkenny managed just six scores from play — albeit that amounted to 10 points (2-4). Five of the eight forwards used by Cody failed to register a score while only Power and Shefflin got more than one from play. Galway’s starting forwards, meanwhile, landed 2-14, in play.

Tactically, Galway had a landslide victory. The blistering start drew Kilkenny out of their comfort zone but, what began in the relegation play-off replay with Dublin, continued here.

Outstanding duo Cyril Donnellan and Damien Hayes both played extremely deep at times in that Portlaoise game and that style of play was evident at Croke Park.

In ways, deep-roving forwards is a defensive tactic but it’s also an attacking one too, as it leaves more space inside to exploit and expose mismatches. Davy Burke ran into a green mile for his goal and the irrepressible Joe Canning had space to swat away Jackie Tyrrell for his.

The Portumna man’s goal drew another parallel with that 2010 final, as a back peddling Kilkenny were exposed by a long ball from midfield to their most dangerous inside forward early in the game; for what was Shane McGrath to Lar Corbett two seasons ago, read Iarla Tannion to Joe Show in 2012.

As Kilkenny have so often done, Galway killed the game early. Plenty of sports psychologists would suggest that the Tribe’s ability to start so ferociously is a testament to how assured they are of Anthony Cunningham’s game-plan.

They all know what they are doing, and believe in how it is being implemented. Perhaps it is why Kilkenny have been able to put the pillow over their opponents’ mouths so quickly and regularly over the years.

Galway never played reactively in that first half and, because of that, they could do so in comfort after the break. Although they made many mistakes -the possession concessions before both Kilkenny goals – and missed easy scores, there was never a sense of panic.

At no stage was there a real worry that they would not end their long quest for glory; Galway’s last championship silverware came in 1999 when they beat Roscommon 4-26 to 2-08 in the Connacht final. I think this might just top that!

Whether it leads to an All-Ireland title is too early to say. We just don’t know enough about the team yet.

The Cats, well, they have always come back so we will presume they will make the final four at least. For every action, Kilkenny always reply with Newtown’s Law multiplied by 10, but now they will have to retain Liam McCarthy the hard way.

Just as Galway were slain by 25 points in the league, Cork by 14 and each other top side losing at least three times, Kilkenny now have cause to doubt themselves. But as with each of their rivals, it’s nothing a win or two won’t sort out.

They are still All-Ireland favourites until someone tells them different; or as Jean Rasczak said in Starship Troopers: “I need a corporal. You’re it, until you’re dead or I find someone better”. We haven’t yet.

Galway have the best route possible and are in supreme form. Including that relegation play-off replay win over Dublin, they have won their last four games by an average of almost 12 points.

Right now, they’re starting it and they’re finishing it too. The trouble for Galway has ever been pushing on from a fabulous win.

Already, the cup is half full and we’re still pouring.

 

Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter: @shanesaint

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Shane Stapleton is the Irish Post's GAA hurling columnist. Follow Shane on Twitter @shanesaint

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