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Dublin: 12°C Monday 14 June 2021
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Whelan and Concannon thriving as Galway move towards new style under O'Neill

Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon played key roles in Galway’s win over Tipperary yesterday.

Galway's Conor Whelan hits the net.
Galway's Conor Whelan hits the net.
Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

AFTER TWO WINS on the bounce, Galway advance to the last six of the Allianz Hurling League.

Following their fade-out against Limerick and hitting 18 wides in a one-point loss to Waterford, the Tribesmen beat Cork and Tipperary by five and eight points respectively.

To make it even more impressive, they did it without injured star man Joe Canning.

They’ll play Wexford in the quarter-final on Saturday afternoon. The Portumna ace is still nursing a calf strain and unlikely to make the game against Davy Fitzgerald’s side, who’ll give a decent indication of Galway’s health under new boss Shane O’Neill.

With nine weeks still to go until the start of the Leinster SHC and this year’s revamped format taking some of the sting out of the league action, it’s still too early to make an assessment on O’Neill. But the signs are good.

He handed opportunities to youngsters like TJ Brennan, Eanna Murphy, Fintan Burke and Shane Cooney to increase the depth in his squad. He’s used 31 players so far in the league. 

A new style of play is also evident under the former Na Piarsaigh manager. His predecessor Micheal Donoghue favoured a direct approach which was understandable when he possessed men like Jonathan Glynn (6’5) and Joseph Cooney (6’4) in his attack.

But Glynn (New York) and Cooney (Australia) are still based abroad and it’s unclear yet whether either will be part of O’Neill’s plans come the summer. O’Neill has remained tight-lipped over their future availability in media interviews so far, though he has said the lines of communication remain open. 

In their absence, Galway have employed the sort of a shorter passing game that most top sides are moving towards. They’ve added some variety to the attack and two players who benefited yesterday were Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon. 

The pair made up a two-man full-forward line after half-time in Salthill and caused havoc. 

Whelan, who started at centre-forward, scored two third-quarter goals after his switch closer to goal in the second period.

Concannon is in his third year on the panel and looks ready to make a significant leap to becoming an important starter for the side this year. Fresh from scoring 1-2 against Cork a week earlier, he fired over four points of the highest quality from play on Sunday.

Galway’s shorter style could be seen in Concannon’s opening point. A neat move involving Cathal Mannion and Aidan Harte saw a low ball played up the touchline for the Killimordaly ace to pop over.

Concannon was involved in a further 1-5 for his team, including his assist for Whelan’s 41st-minute goal.

He might have assisted another goal had he slipped a pass to his team-mate three minutes earlier after he bore down on goal.  

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 7.30.51 p.m.

Of his 10 plays, Concannon either scored or assisted 1-8. He missed just one shot at the posts and was generally very efficient in possession.

His quick thinking set-up Evan Niland’s only score from play in the opening quarter by flicking out of a ruck to his unmarked team-mate.

1.1

For his 45th minute point, he did well to win a crossfield delivery in front of Barry Heffernan before slotting over.

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Concannon Source: TG4

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above) 

Concannon’s final score also arrived from a crossfield ball, this one from Fintan Burke.  The young forward did well to drop his effort over the bar from a tight angle as the conditions worsened.

Concannon 2 Source: TG4

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above)

Whelan was Galway’s best forward during a difficult campaign in 2019. He’s still just 23, but has developed into one of the leaders in this team. Physically, he has never looked in better shape.

He is extremely powerful, with a low centre of gravity. With the ball in hand, he puts his head down and goes for goal. Whelan is an extremely tricky prospect for even the best defenders. 

Ronan Maher had his hands full with the Kinvara sharpshooter on Sunday. Even when a poor delivery went inside, Maher was never allowed come out with easy ball.

Whelan Source: TG4

(Click here if you can’t view the clip above)

That was one of six tackles he made during the game, an extremely impressive figure from a forward. Forwards are mainly judged on what they contribute to the scoreboard, but Whelan brings far more to the table. He never gives defenders a minute’s peace. 

Galway still go direct on occasion, but they choose their moments. Without just two defenders isolated in the Tipperary full-back line, Galway happily played ball in front of Whelan and Concannon as they took control in the third quarter.

If the sides meet in the summer, Tipperary are highly unlikely to leave the last line of their defence as unprotected as they did here. The space afforded to Cathal Mannion for Galway’s third goal epitomised the oceans of room left for the Tribesmen to attack.

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 7.32.51 p.m.

The Tipperary work-rate dropped in third quarter, allowing Galway space and time to play angled ball into their forward line.

For his second goal, Whelan made a stunning fetch after he was picked out by Johnny Coen.

Despite Paudie Maher’s best efforts to get back after his brother Ronan was shrugged off, Whelan smashed his strike past Brian Hogan. It was a magnificent solo effort. The confidence flowing through Whelan’s veins was plain to see.

Wexford won’t be as generous with space in their defence next weekend and Fitzgerald will undoubtedly have a plan for Whelan in particular.

But things are starting to take shape for O’Neill’s team after a testing start.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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