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Analysis: How Galway's defensive brilliance obliterated Tipperary's league title dreams

Confirmation, if needed, yesterday that Galway are genuine All-Ireland contenders.

AS PART OF our 2017 hurling coverage, we’re once again calling upon the expertise of Tipperary’s 2001 All-Ireland winning captain and former team coach Tommy Dunne. 

Tommy is back with The42 for the summer and he starts today by taking a closer look at how Galway dismantled Tipperary in yesterday’s Allianz Hurling League final at the Gaelic Grounds. 

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Overview

Yesterday’s League final provided confirmation, if any were needed, that Galway are genuine All-Ireland contenders.

Their credentials are very solid and they delivered a very strong statement at the Gaelic Grounds.

The stand-out feature of the match, for me, was Galway’s defence, the way they went about defending and the intensity of it.

It was one of the most significant factors in the game, they completely demolished the Tipperary forward unit, and were able to launch their attacking game from that defensive platform.

Galway’s main tactic focused on ensuring that the Tipperary forwards were going to be completely outmuscled.

Tipp weren’t able to pinpoint any diagonal balls to their forwards and couldn’t get any offloads going either, as they were getting hit from all angles.

Tipp were non-existent in the aerial stakes and it took 15 minutes for them to register a point from play.

Galway bossed the game from start to finish and with 16 minutes on the watch, Steven O’Brien, Dan McCormack and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer hadn’t hit a ball from open play.

That statistic alone tells you all you need to know about Galway’s dominance.

Setting the tone

Right from the start, Galway were to the pitch of the game and as early as the fourth minute, Cathal Barrett was dispossessed, leading to a Conor Whelan point.

In the first picture, Barrett wins a good possession ahead of the Galway man.

Whelan doesn’t give up, however and follows Barrett as the Tipp defender tries to clear the ball.

The cavalry arrive and it’s Joseph Cooney (12) putting the heat on Barrett now.

Barrett loses possession and Whelan (red helmet) is well placed to profit.

He emerges from the ruck with ball in hand, and scoots away to score the point.

This early turnover would have provided huge encouragement for Galway and, at the other end, there was a distinct refusal to cough up a goal chance.

In the first picture, Tipperary’s John McGrath find himself in a promising one-on-one situation with Adrian Tuohy, but Daithi Burke (purple circle) is alive to the danger and is already moving across on the cover.

Burke is happy to challenge McGrath from behind, conceding a free.

In Burke’s mind, there was no way that McGrath was going to score a goal off that chance.

There were other moments where Galway signalled their early intent, as Niall Burke careered late into Pádraic Maher:

And Daithi Burke’s (3) challenge on Noel McGrath sent the Tipperary man out over the sideline:

You’ll remember the couple of heavy tackles that Tipperary men put in on Galway in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final but this time, it was the Tribesmen setting the terms of engagement and laying down the markers.

Galway had the upper hand in the physical stakes from the word go, forcing three turnovers from Tipperary backs inside the opening nine minutes, two off Cathal Barrett and one off Ronan Maher. This was the Galway template.

Dropping deep

Another interesting feature of the game was Galway’s tactics on Tipp’s puckouts.

They were definitely dropping deep and this was a clear instruction from manager Micheál Donoghue.

I attended the game in Limerick and watching it back last night, I noticed Donoghue in the 47th minute of the game, clearly audible as he urges his players to drop back as Darren Gleeson prepares to take a Tipp puck-out.

In the three pictures below, he’s shouting ‘back, back’, while also pointing to his players to get into position.

As a result, Tipp went short with puckouts to their full-backs, as Darren Gleeson hit Cathal Barrett and James Barry.

But that didn’t really suit Tipp, having to build from there. They didn’t have Seamus Callanan as a target man on the edge of the square and as ball winners in this regard, ‘Bubbles’ and John McGrath didn’t fulfil that role on this occasion.

Up front, Tipp didn’t compete and gain any sort of advantage in the air and on the ground. Galway had all of the individual duels pretty much wrapped up.

Tipperary goal chances few and far between

Tipp had been scoring plenty of goals prior to this, 16 to date in the competition before yesterday’s League final.

But there were very few occasions where Tipperary forwards got the opportunity to run at Galway’s backs.

One of the first ones was when ‘Bonner’ Maher came in, and in the first picture, he grabs possession.

The offload is good to Niall O’Meara, who has the chance to run towards the Galway goal.

O’Meara looks inside and tries to pick out Dan McCormack (circled), who’s made a good run through the centre.

But McCormack mishandles, the ball falls to the ground and Galway can clear their lines.

It was the only smell of a goal chance that Tipp had on the day. That’s encouraging for Galway because they were caught by two late Tipp goals in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and in 2015, Seamus Callanan did untold damage to them from full-forward.

There was no question, however, that Galway’s motivation to win this League final was greater than Tipp’s, having lost that All-Ireland semi-final last year.

It was very evident from early on that they weren’t going to lose another big game and they absolutely annihilated Tipp, as much as anything else.

They know they have the measure of this Tipp forward line now, plus pace and ability on the ground and in the air to compete with them. Galway’s physicality up front caused Tipp so much trouble and Michael Ryan’s men didn’t have any answers on this occasion.

Pick a pocket of space, or two

Because Galway were so much on top in the backs, they were able to hit balls long and short.

In the space of a minute, we saw Cathal Mannion hit two bad wides but the big concern for Tipperary was the amount of space between the Galway forward and his marker, captain Pádraic Maher.

Here’s the first one:

And here’s the second example:

That’s far too loose from a Tipperary perspective and on both occasions, Mannion had plenty of time before lining up his shots. He could have had two points from those efforts but two wides represented a poor return.

The fact, however, that Galway were able to pick out Mannion with so much room in which to operate was just another example of a team utterly in charge of the game.

Jason Flynn received the man-of-the-match award but Conor Whelan was Galway’s best forward in the first half.

Again, his ability to influence the game stemmed from how much Galway were on top in their back line.

In the 31st minute, Conor Whelan’s point confirmed Galway’s dominance but preceding that point, two passages of play occurred.

It started with a Darren Gleeson puck-out for Tipperary, which Galway won.

Pádraic Maher, here, wins the ball and prepares to clear it back up the field.

Yet again, Galway are in control, and they have the chance to launch the ball forward.

It’s an excellent ball for Whelan (circled, below), who claims a clean possession and races away for a point.

Tipp’s forwards had two deliveries in that phase of play but on both occasions, they failed to win possession, and it ended up with a Whelan score.

Again, another prime example of how that defensive solidity and ability to win ‘dirty ball’ allowed Galway to launch successful attacks.

I had a look at the second half but the pattern of the game remained very much the same all the way through.

Conor Whelan had the upper hand on Barrett, and Flynn on Mickey Cahill. Flynn’s finishing wasn’t good early on but he did take his two goals very well.

Brendan Maher, Michael Breen and Noel McGrath tried hard but for Tipperary, it wasn’t enough.

Conclusion

Some might argue that it’s a good thing for Tipperary to have some flaws exposed but it’s never a good to get beaten by so much.

Galway were always big contenders to me so I’m not surprised, necessarily, that they can play as well as this.

It was as good a display as I’ve seen from them in a few years and I’d suggest that they’re capable of maintaining that level of performance.

It’s some fillip of confidence for them as they look ahead for the rest of the year and make no mistake, they’ll be knocking on September’s door if they keep everyone fit and healthy.

There’s a really strong spine in this team and they’ve made some key adjustments, particularly Adrian Tuohy at two and Gearoid McInerney at six, who had a ferocious game.

Padraig Mannion at five and Aidan Harte at seven are boys with pace and power and their midfield pairing of David Burke and Johnny Coen looks very settled and dynamic.

They also have Joe Canning, who you can play anywhere, but he will be a real fulcrum at number 11.

I’ve picked out just one of many examples to illustrate how Joe’s licence to roam can hurt the opposition.

It’s Galway’s first score of the game as Joe gets on the ball out around midfield and prepares to play a lovely pass to Aidan Harte (7).

Harte then breaks through two Tipperary tacklers:

Harte now has the time and space he needs to fire over the point:

Joe will be the real fulrcum for Galway at number 11 and then you have Whelan and Flynn, who have pace that will trouble opponents if they get enough quality supply.

Galway have the raw materials, no doubt, but when it comes to the nitty gritty, they’ll need to be a lot more efficient in their creation-conversion ratio, and you can refer to the two Cathal Mannion examples above for concrete evidence of this.

I don’t think they’ve necessarily shown their hand too early, either.

Why wouldn’t you want to win a League final playing like that? Galway clearly wanted this and they went and did it with real conviction, marking themselves out as a team that will take some beating.

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