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Analysis: Galway destroy the Clare sweeper, a stunning Joe show and Waterford worries

All-Ireland winning captain Tommy Dunne takes a closer look at the factors behind victories for Galway and Waterford in yesterday’s All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-finals.

AS PART OF our 2016 Hurling championship coverage, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Tipperary’s 2001 All-Ireland winning captain and former team coach Tommy Dunne. 

Tommy has joined The42 for the summer and in his latest column, he takes a closer look at victories for Galway and Waterford in yesterday’s All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-finals.

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Overview

While others might beg to differ, I thought the Clare-Galway game was the best match of the hurling championship so far. That might be a reflection on the championship itself but I really enjoyed it.

I thought there was a real edge to it and it was played at real championship pace and intensity, with savage commitment from both teams.

Having said that, this was a poor display from Clare. They reserved their best hurling of the year for the concluding stages of the League – the quarter-final, semi-final and two finals. 

It looks like that’s when they peaked and they haven’t been able to maintain or recapture that form since. They obviously didn’t mean to peak then but they were on top form and hurling very well. They’ll be looking at the reasons why that was the case but serious flaws in their system were exposed by Galway yesterday.

A very simple example of this occurred in the 52nd minute of the second half, when it took far too long to get the ball into their inside line. Cian Dillon gained possession and played a pass to Tony Kelly, who came under ferocious pressure from a posse of Galway defenders. He managed to get the ball to David Reidy, who moved it inside but Galway were there in numbers and John Conlon was forced into a hurried shot that drifted wide.

That point is that any forward worth his salt wants quick ball sent in and Shane O’Donnell won some decent possession in the first half when that was the case. The longer it takes for the ball to come from the full-back or half-back line, the more time it gives the opposition to get set and the less space the forwards will have to work with.

The Wexford-Waterford match that preceded it was a disappointing game. Wexford never offered any real threat and Waterford got back on track with their style of play, coping well with whatever was thrown at them. However, I seriously doubt whether the Waterford system is good enough to beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final on 7 August.

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Galway destroy the Clare sweeper system

This was a key component of the game in the sense that Clare never got a consistent attacking game going.

Galway had their homework done to impeccable levels. First of all, Clare’s sweeper Cian Dillon was effectively shut down from the very start.

Galway obviously took a look at the Clare system and noticed how Clare launch their attacks, with Dillon sweeping, laying off ball, and players overlapping. All of that was counteracted very well by Galway.

As early as the fourth minute, Dillon was turned over by three Galway players. In this first picture, Dillon has the ball in his grasp and is surveying his options:

Within two seconds, he’s swarmed by three Galway players:

This results in a turnover and a point for Johnny Coen. Galway knew what they were about from the very word go. They knew Clare’s style of play and attacked them from the start. This was a very clear indication of how Galway wanted to play the game.

Galway were at it again in the 14th minute, as Dillon attempts to find some space but is moving towards the New Stand touchline:

Conor Cooney and Cathal Mannion put the heat on and Dillon’s coming under serious pressure again:

Galway’s work-rate results in a turnover as Mannion forces another from Clare’s sweeper:

This consistent targeting of Dillon was a key part of Galway’s strategy to counteract Clare’s attacking threat.

Galway target Clare puck-outs

This was another key facet of the game, as Galway forced Clare into long puck-outs, and were more than happy to do so.

Galway’s first goal was a perfect example of how aerial dominance won the day for them.

Joe Canning soars highest here to grab Andrew Fahy’s puck-out, which is launched inside the Galway half:

After plucking the ball from the air, Canning moves a couple of steps to deliver a ball inside, a delivery that led to Conor Cooney’s goal:

That goal came in the 15th minute and three minutes later, Aidan Harte was fouled after winning another Fahy puck-out clean. Joe Canning popped over the long-range free and Galway have mined 1-1 from puck-outs in the space of a few minutes.

It wasn’t long before Clare realised that the long option wasn’t working out but while they did go short on a number of deliveries thereafter, Galway applied pressure on sweeper Dillon, which forced him to go long and allowed the Tribesmen to mop up time and time again.

On a wider note, Clare’s game is based around carrying the ball through the middle of the field, two or three passes to set up a diagonal ball inside. That was cut out by Galway and plan B was to go long to Aaron Shanagher, who was absolutely dominated by Daithí Burke.

Galway got their match-ups spot on, with John Hanbury on O’Donnell, Padraic Mannion on Tony Kelly, Burke on Shanagher, Gearóid McInerney policing John Conlon. With the exception of O’Donnell, who threatened a bit, Galway won these match-ups. Kelly was threatening and tried very hard but Mannion did a fine job as he minimised his influence.

The one time Kelly got away from him in the first half, and with a goal looking like a distinct possibility, Adrian Tuohy got back to execute that brilliant hook. Galway’s defensive play, in general, was outstanding.

Galway’s leaders come to the fore

Galway have been on the end of some fairly consistent and personal criticism in recent times and they needed a response.

What was required more than anything was leadership and in this regard, Joe Canning, Daithí Burke, David Burke and Aidan Harte were immense in how they led Galway through the game, particularly Daithí Burke and Canning. You could place Johnny Coen in this category too, as I thought he had a fine game.

In the first three and a half minutes of the game, Coen was involved in four plays. He hit a point from play, a wide and had two other involvements. This from a guy who’s not one of Galway’s flagship players but who started in the middle of the field and injected real pace from the word go.

Joe Canning of Galway scores a goal Semple Stadium hosted the Joe Canning show yesterday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Overall, Galway had a lot of pace about them, with Coen, David Burke and Tuohy particularly dynamic, running at people and getting their tackles in. They were very impressive in these facets of the game.

Joe Canning’s leadership was in the ‘incredible’ bracket yesterday. His performance was a complete contrast to the Leinster final. He was involved in a huge amount of plays that you wouldn’t normally associate with Joe.

He started in the middle of the field but was back inside his own 45m line, properly defending. He operated at centre forward and full-forward and Galway had a ploy where they weren’t going to make it easy for Clare to pick him up.

When Joe drifted to the half-forward line, Brendan Bugler picked him up with no great success. When he moved to the middle, Bugler didn’t follow him and from an early stage, Clare were having to adapt to Joe’s movement.

He showed leadership from the start, hitting his frees and getting stuck into everything from the word go. In the Leinster final, you wouldn’t have known that he was on the field but when the questions were asked yesterday, Joe came up with the answers.

I’ve highlighted a perfect example of consistent work-rate from Joe in roughly a 21-second spell during the second half.

Here, he’s preparing to gather possession around the middle third of the field:

Next, he comes under pressure from Clare defenders:

Joe still manages to wriggle free and plays a handpass to Johnny Coen (out of shot), who takes possession:

Note the time on the pictures and the crucial point to make here is that when play develops, Joe is involved again, taking a pass from Davy Glennon before selling a lovely dummy:

Now he’s got some space to work in and he moves through a couple of Clare tacklers:

Joe’s next contribution is to transfer a pass to his left, where Cyril Donnellan collects and scores a point verified by HawkEye:

When we talk about leadership, it’s about doing the right things and taking the right options at the vital times.

Donnellan’s point, set up by Canning, came after Clare had hit three without reply to cut the gap back to five. It was a point that helped to settle Galway down again as they kept the scoreboard ticking over but it was interesting to note that Canning was involved in two passages of play in quick succession.

This was Joe at his all-round best. It was just an outstanding individual display and the more I studied the game, the more I realised just how much of an influence he exerted on proceedings, not just in terms of his scoring contribution.

Aidan Harte’s performance

I’ve referenced Aidan Harte earlier in this piece but his second half display is worth noting.

His positioning in the spare man role was very good. We’ve spent a lot of time this year discussing sweepers, or the extra man at the back, and for most of the game, Harte filled this role.

He played it very deep, more or less protecting the two inside backs, and he played it really well.

There was a brilliant example of Harte’s reading of the play when Colm Galvin arrowed a diagonal ball from the Old Stand touchline in the 30th minute.

I’ve frozen the play here and watch Harte’s perfect positioning between the lines, and in between two Galway defenders and two Clare forwards:

Harte’s read it perfectly and executes a clean catch:

Harte’s now in a position to thunder out of defence:

At the other end of the field, Harte’s delivery almost leads to a goal for Conor Whelan.

The point here is that Harte was in an impeccable position to cut out the diagonal ball. His natural starting position is veering towards where the ball will land and it’s his from the moment it leaves Galvin’s hurley.

I thought it was as lovely example of a guy playing the spare man role as it should be. His anticipation and positioning were exquisite in equal measure.

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Waterford’s defensive system back on track

The vast majority of this week’s column has focused on Clare and Galway, as it was the closer of the two.

In the game that preceded it, Wexford didn’t have any sort of discernable plan to deal with the Waterford defensive set-up.

Lee Chin and Conor McDonald are Wexford’s two key men and play develops on the back of what they do.

But here, in the first half, a ball goes into McDonald and Waterford have a number of bodies (white circles) around the dropping ball:

Crucially, we can see Tadhg de Búrca much closer to his full-backs than he was in the Munster final against Tipperary, which I dealt with in a previous column. It’s much tighter play from Waterford, and they reverted very much to type on yesterday.

Wexford didn’t have the wherewithal to open Waterford up. They’re not using to playing a short game either so that wasn’t an option. Waterford were in charge from start to finish and there was very little influence from McDonald, who has been Wexford’s key player.

Waterford’s defensive system was pretty much back on track. They attacked the ball and more importantly, attacked breaking ball, particularly in the full-back line. I’d estimate that if you were to take six breaking balls from McDonald collisions, Waterford were winning at least five of them.

Waterford attack Wexford puck-outs

Galway went after Clare’s puck-outs and similarly, Waterford attacked Wexford’s.

There were numerous examples in the first half of how Waterford mopped up when Wexford went long and in this one, Lee Chin is the Wexford player competing for the dropping ball:

Jamie Barron is quickest to the break and this passage of play leads directly to a score, as Barron offloaded to Austin Gleeson, who thundered through the Wexford defence for a point:

Kevin Moran was involved in a number of significant plays in the first half. He linked the play well, moving the ball through to the forwards and generally doing the right thing with it.

Moran was on very little ball in the Munster final but playing out there as a third midfielder yesterday, his influence helped to ensure that Waterford’s system was back working the way it normally does for them.

Still, I don’t understand how the Waterford system is going to get them to where they need to go in terms of winning an All-Ireland title.

They created no goal chances again yesterday and the question now is: are they going to adapt and be more attacking for the semi-final against Kilkenny?

Personally, I don’t think they will and I’d be amazed if they beat Kilkenny with this system. They’ve scored one goal in three championship games but Waterford will argue that they had 17 wides yesterday, 21 points and a number of shots that dropped short.

You’re up around 45 scoring chances but the vast majority of them are high-risk efforts from distance. It’s much easier to score from 45m than 65m out and the other factor to consider from a Waterford viewpoint is that there is an enormous physical cost associated with playing how they do, in terms of the distances that need to be covered by some of their players.

Austin Gleeson is a prime example. The amount of ground he’s expected to cover is scary. In an All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, I’d have serious reservations about Waterford being able to play this system effectively for 70 or 80 minutes. Time will tell if there’s a plan B.

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