Opportunity knocks for Derry and Galway, predicting match-ups and epic midfield battle

5 talking points ahead of today’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final.

Shane Walsh and Shane McGuigan.
Shane Walsh and Shane McGuigan.
Image: Inpho

1. Huge chance to reach All-Ireland final 

WITH KERRY AND Dublin on the other side of the draw, these counties have been handed a glorious chance to reach the final. Get there and who knows what can happen. 

2001 was Galway’s last time to make an appearance in the final, while Derry must go back to 1993.

Galway’s last trip to the semi-final was four years ago, yet they retain only five players from their 26-man panel that day: Damien Comer, Shane Walsh, Sean Kelly, Johnny Heaney and Kieran Molloy. 

Derry’s rise under Rory Gallagher has been sharp. Reaping dividends from a revamped underage coaching structure, they the delivered a first Ulster title since 1998. 

Both arrive at this stage battle-hardened.

Galway have come through huge battles against Mayo, Roscommon and Armagh.

Derry won an extremely difficult Ulster championship, overcoming Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal, before they hammered Clare the last day out. 

matthew-tierney-kieran-molloy-damien-comer-and-shane-walsh Galway’s Matthew Tierney, Kieran Molloy, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. Galway face their stiffest tactical test  

There’s no doubt the introduction of Cian O’Neill as coach has been influential in Galway’s better shape this season. During Padraic Joyce’s first two years, they lacked structure at times and shipped a few heavy beatings. 

O’Neill’s finger prints can especially be seen on the team from a defensive stand point.

They used different systems at the back to stymy Mayo’s running game by clogging up the middle with the wing-backs tucking in, and Roscommon’s kicking game when they dropped 13 men behind the ball.

They showed patience against Armagh offensively. It could be seen in how they minded possession and worked it to the shooters in the right positions. They’re getting the best out of Damien Comer and Robert Finnerty, while allowing Shane Walsh to flourish. 

One area of concern for the Tribesmen is the late ball Walsh kicked away against Armagh, which resulted in Rian O’Neill’s levelling free that sent the game to extra-time.

Patience is paramount against this Derry team. They get energy from turnovers and will hurt Galway on the counter attack. 

Also, Galway’s habit of letting leads slip and conceding late goals must be addressed if they’re going to progress today.

rory-gallagher Derry manager Rory Gallagher. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Rory Gallagher’s approach

Gallagher would have spent the early part of last week bunkered down analysing Galway.

While he admitted the league hammering Derry suffered against them in March will have little relevance on this contest, he might take some learnings from it. 

Like any manager, Gallagher will be looking for areas of vulnerability in the opposition and scheming for ways to take advantage of it. 

The damage Armagh did from the high ball won’t have gone unnoticed. Connor Gleeson will be targetted at various stages in the game as Derry look to get under his skin. Could we see Emmett Bradley start on the edge of the square? 

Derry’s attack has the prospect of posing real problems for Galway. The Connacht champions tend to crowd the area around the D, but Derry often send five players inside the 20m line to leave space for runners like Gareth McKinless from deep.

How will Galway counter that? It could have a big say on the outcome. 

4. Key match-ups

Derry are better at defending but Galway have more threats in attack. The match-ups will be key. Chrissy McKaigue has marked the main forward on opposing teams, all of whom have played close to goal.

Galway’s danger man is Walsh, who tends to spend his time roaming further outfield. Derry will either push McKaigue out to follow his every move, or use Brendan Rogers and look to expose his habit of switching off when his team lose the ball. 

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Conor McCluskey is a cert to mark Robert Finnerty and that will be a key battle.

One issue Galway must guard against is allowing defenders tear up the field unopposed. Even corner-backs will have to be followed or they’ll create overlaps, which Derry thrive on.

Derry’s habit of switching positions in attack makes the match-ups at the other end more difficult to predict. However, Sean Kelly looks like the man to take a man-marking role on Shane McGuigan, whether he plays at 11 or 14.   

conor-glass Conor Glass will need watching at midfield. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

5. Midfield battle

We could be in for an epic contest at centre-field. Paul Conroy and Cillian McDaid are Galway’s likely partnership, although Matthew Tierney could switch with the latter.

Conor Glass and Gareth McKinless are the duo Derry used at midfield against Clare, but others such as Bradley, Niall Toner or Ethan Doherty could partner Glass instead. 

A showdown between former AFL players Glass and McDaid would be a fascinating, particularly given both gave man-of-the-match performances two weeks ago. 

Derry might fancy McKinless’s chances of putting Conroy on the back foot too.

If Galway can properly press the Derry restart, a lot of kick-outs will end up going long, which will set us up for a spectacular battle in the air.

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Kevin O'Brien

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