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Key battles: where round two will be won and lost

 

 

Capitalising fully on periods of dominance…

Both sides had their purple patches in the drawn game. Galway’s came in the first-half when they outscored Kilkenny by 1-8 to 0-3 during a 28-minute spell, yet their half-time lead was just five points. Admittedly not a bad position to be occupying at the midway point of an All-Ireland final, but the gap between the teams should have been much greater.

Galway had Kilkenny in a state of panic throughout the first-half but squandered a number of straightforward chances, before taking their foot off the pedal as the interval approached, allowing Henry Shefflin to close the distance with three unanswered frees. Kilkenny’s time in the ascendancy came after the restart. They reeled off six points without reply between the 39th and 54th minutes to go one ahead.

However, the Cats then sat back to take a breather instead of continuing to be driven forward by their momentum to put the nail in Galway’s coffin. The expectation was that Kilkenny’s ruthless streak would come to the fore, but a defensive mix-up allowed Niall Burke to hit Galway’s second goal and the Tribesmen clung on to force the replay.

 

The contribution of the forwards…

It’s a familiar old problem for Galway but they really do need more of their forwards to make an impact on the scoreboard.

Joe Canning is an exceptional hurler who will always provide the bulk of their scores, but relying on one man to keep adding to their tally won’t always work. Niall Burke, the only other Galway forward to score in the drawn game, supplemented Canning’s 1-9 haul with 1-2 of his own, but midfielder Andy Smith and wing-back Niall Donoghue — who scored a point each — were the only other Galway players on the scoresheet. Canning was the last-gasp hero for Anthony Cunningham’s men with that late free, but his radar was faulty on plenty of occasions too. If Canning has a rare off-day, the likes of Damien Hayes and James Regan need to be ready to fill the void.

Kilkenny’s spread of scores was more even — five of their forwards hit the mark — but they too were dependent on Henry Shefflin. His All-Ireland final performance was as good as we’ve ever seen from the great man. He struck 12 of Kilkenny’s 19 points, but the rest of Brian Cody’s attacking sextet managed just six between them. More will be required particularly of Richie Power and Aidan Fogarty. They contributed 1-6 between them in the semi-final win over Tipperary but were held to just a point each against Galway.

 

The midfield battle…

There’s no doubting that Galway had the upper hand in the middle of the field in the drawn game. Many questioned whether a man of Iarla Tannian’s physique would be mobile enough for midfield, but the bulky 28-year-old from Ardrahan has answered his critics emphatically. He ran riot against Michael Fennelly and Richie Hogan last time out and another good performance on Sunday could secure Hurler of the Year honours. Along with Andy Smith, Tannian mopped up a huge amount of ball to feed Joe Canning inside.

Whether Brian Cody will go with Hogan in midfield again remains to be seen. He struggled against Tannian and Smith, while Fennelly still looked short of full fitness. Cody may give U-21 star Cillian Buckley his chance, but regardless of the composition of Kilkenny’s midfield duo, it’s an area in which the Cats need drastic improvement. Henry Shefflin gathered plenty of ball for Kilkenny around the middle third but they need more of a platform from their midfielders, who have seldom been dominated as they were. If Kilkenny can get the upper hand here, it could prove to be the difference.

 

Follow Paul Dollery on Twitter: @pauldollery

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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