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Puck-out battle highlights Galway's struggles in defeat to Limerick

Five Limerick scores came directly off Galway keeper Eanna Murphy’s restarts.

Galway goalkeeper Eanna Murphy at the end of the game.
Galway goalkeeper Eanna Murphy at the end of the game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IN THE 76TH minute of the All-Ireland hurling semi-final in Croke Park on Sunday, Eanna Murphy overhit his puck-out to Adrian Tuohey and it was gathered by Tom Morrissey.

The Limerick forward struck the ball between the posts, his fifth from play, to extend the lead to two points. It was a key moment, ensuring Galway needed to go for goal in the dying minutes of the game. 

It was symptomatic of Galway’s struggles on Murphy’s restarts. 0-5 of the Treaty’s tally arrived directly off the losing team’s puck-outs. Three of those came in a seven minute spell midway through the first half as Gearoid Hegarty (2) and Diarmaid Byrnes mopped up possession and fired between the posts.

Peter Casey and Morrissy capitalised for scores in the second period, while Limerick sent two further scoring chances wide from the Galway puck-outs.

Overall, Murphy didn’t have a bad game. He made five important saves, including a couple of outstanding stops to deny Limerick certain goals in the second period.

But restarts are such an important part of the modern game. The goalkeeper will have the ball in his hands at least 30 times so distribution has become a crucial element in how a team plays.

Galway retained 67% of Murphy’s puck-outs, including all 13 of his passes to defenders inside the 45. Shane O’Neill’s side utilised a sweeper for the day, giving them an extra man in the full-back line for the restarts, but it meant Limerick had a spare half-back to compete for long deliveries.

Because of their extra body at the back, Galway were encouraged to play the puck-outs short and work them through the lines wherever possible.

On too many occasions the ball went to a free member of Galway’s full-back line before it was lamped downfield to where Limerick’s spare defender gratefully gathered it.

Limerick set-up on Murphy’s puck-outs with two banks of three and played very narrow whenever he went short – cutting off the space down the middle channel.

Screenshot 2020-11-30 at 7.06.34 p.m.

In the ninth minute, Galway got off the hook when Murphy played a one-two with Sean Loftus. The goalie tried to pick out sweeper Padraig Mannion between the lines, but the pass was brilliantly cut out by Graeme Mulcahy.

Screenshot 2020-11-30 at 7.21.20 p.m.

Unfortunately for Mulcahy, he the botched the pick-up with Murphy miles away from home and the goal at his mercy. Galway were extremely fortunate not to concede a green flag here.

Screenshot 2020-11-30 at 7.21.50 p.m.

But it was in the mid-range where Murphy really struggled.

Five of the 10 puck-outs he aimed between his 45 and 65 were intercepted by Limerick. It’s the zone where John Kiely’s powerful half-forward line occupied and it was no surprise to see Morrissey, Hegarty and Lynch finish the day with 0-11 between them from play.

Playing at left half-back in the first-half, Joseph Cooney was twice a target but on both occasions Limerick came up with the ball. The first of them was a poor Murphy pass that flew over the sideline.

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The Tommie Larkins clubman has a bullet pass with a low trajectory and the vast majority of his short restarts did go to hand. Padraig Mannion and Daithi Burke were the main recipients with four receptions each just outside the 21m line. 

The loss of Cathal Mannion to injury in the 23rd minute was significant as it robbed Murphy of one of his primary long targets. Twice in the opening quarter he was picked out by the Tribe netminder.

Joseph Cooney pushed up to wing-forward after half-time and his zone was targetted four times by Murphy, but he came up with the ball just once. That is no surprise given his marker Kyle Hayes is one of the best players in the country under a high delivery and the Limerick half-backs start to mop up more long ball in the second-half.

Just two of Galway’s puck-outs that went beyond halfway in the latter period were retained – one apiece from Conor Whelan and Cooney. Compare that to the first-half, where Whelan, Coen (both 2), Cathal Mannion, Brian Concannon and Joe Canning all came up with possession from long restarts.

Galway’s retention rate from puck-outs that went beyond their 65 dropped from 64% in the first-half to 34% in the second.

Galway did register nine shots directly from Murphy’s puck-outs, but seven of them arrived after long restarts gathered within striking distance of the opponent’s goal.

nicky-quaid Limerick goalkeeper Nicky Quaid is at the top of his game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

He often doesn’t get the kudos he deserves, but Nickie Quaid remains a central part of the Limerick gameplan. We were into first-half stoppage-time before Limerick failed to retain possession from one of his puck-outs, winning 17 of his 18 restarts in the opening period.

That’s a serious platform for any side to build attacks.

They registered six shots, scoring 0-4, directly from his restarts in the first period and four shots, scoring 0-3, in the second-half. Not one Galway scoring opportunity arrived off Quaid’s puck-outs, which shows how well he minds the ball. 

Overall, Quaid had a 100% success rate with short puck-outs and the eight they lost all went long inside the Galway half. He finished the game with an 82% success rate.

Murphy is only in his debut season and has plenty of time to get better. Quaid, meanwhile, is at the peak of his powers and continues to make this Limerick side tick. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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