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Galway seek revenge, modern rivalry renewed & Tipp's strength in depth - NHL final talking points

It’s final day at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds.

FOR THE FIRST time since 2008, Galway and Tipperary will lock horns in an Allianz Hurling League final.

On that occasion, Tipp edged a high-scoring shoot-out at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds, prevailing by 3-18 to 3-16.

It’s the last time that Tipp tasted outright victory in this competition, with Galway’s last success achieved in 2010, when they beat Cork in the final.

Tipperary have won the League more times (19) than any other county, and another win would put them three clear of Kilkenny on the all-time honours list.

Galway, meanwhile, are hoping to move into double figures by collecting their 10th League crown. It’s also the first time that the counties have locked horns in a competitive fixture since last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, which Tipp won by a point.

Here, we take a look at the main talking points ahead of the game:

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1. Time’s moved on for both counties

Joint captains Eoin Kelly and Paul Ormond lift the cup together Tipperary joint-captains Eoin Kelly and Paul Ormond lift the League trophy in 2008. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Not surprisingly, there’s just a handful of survivors from the 2008 final clash between the counties.

James Skehill was in goal, and scored a free, nine years ago, while Joe Canning was Galway’s leading scorer with a haul of 1-6, including five pointed frees.

None of the Tipperary players who lined out from the start are still involved, although one of them, Ryan O’Dwyer, is now plying his inter-county trade with Dublin.

In the 55th minute of that game, Tipperary marksman Seamus Callanan came off the bench to replace O’Dwyer.

And Callanan, ruled out with a broken thumb for today’s game, is the only player still lining out for his county from the 19 used against Galway on that occasion. Darren Gleeson was also on the panel in 2008 and he’s now the first-choice Tipperary goalkeeper.

2. A modern rivalry renewed

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

These two counties have gone at it hot and heavy in recent years, clashing in successive All-Ireland semi-finals in 2015 and 2016.

Two years ago, Galway edged out Tipperary by a point, before the Premier County turned the tables 12 months later, and by the same margin.

Tipp have the edge on most opponents at this point in time but Galway don’t seem to fear them.

Micheál Donoghue, the Galway manager, also worked with Tipperary during Eamon O’Shea’s spell at the helm and he knows plenty about today’s opponents.

Another close encounter is expected between two team who will be at the head of the queue when All-Ireland honours are handed out later in the year.

But for now, League bragging rights are at stake and we can expect a hugely-physical encounter in Limerick.

3. Revenge in Galway’s minds

Last August’s All-Ireland semi-final was an agonising defeat for Galway, in more ways than one.

They lost out by just a single point, having been stung by Tipperary goals from sub John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and John McGrath down the home straight.

But the damage was arguably done in the first half, which might seem strange to say when the Tribesmen led by 1-10 to 0-11 at the break.

Source: CR's Video Vaults/YouTube

That colossal Pádraic Maher hit on Joe Canning led to the Galway talisman’s substitution at half-time, while Adrian Tuohy was also forced off injured.

They were two massive losses for Galway in the second half and in what turned out to be a game decided by very fine margins, who knows what might have happened had the Westerners not suffered those huge blows.

Canning will be especially keen to leave his mark on this one, as his contribution to the team’s cause when big games are in the melting pot has been called into question in some quarters.

4. The key match-ups

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Galway manager Donoghue was clever last Sunday, recognising the threat posed by Limerick’s Cian Lynch and deploying Adrian Tuohy in a man-marking role.

That switch blunted Limerick’s edge and Galway cantered to a pretty comfortable win.

The six starting forwards managed just three points from play between them but Tipperary are a different animal in that regard.

The loss of Seamus Callanan has presented Donoghue with a conundrum, however.

It’s almost certain that he would have switched Daithí Burke from the half-back line to pick up Callanan, and match-up that favoured Galway at Croke Park last August.

Aidan Harte would have moved to the half-back line but might remain in a deeper role now, as Donoghue considers his options.

Tuohy looks set to pick up one of the McGrath brothers but that still leaves Donoghue with decisions to make on the likes of John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, Dan McCormack and the other McGrath siblings.

At the other end of the pitch, Tipp will go by numbers in defence, and how Donoghue lines up his forwards will dictate the terms of engagement.

5. Who needs this more?

The answer to this question depends entirely on your point of view, and there’s really no right or wrong answer.

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan hasn’t hidden his desire to win this competition, and has launched an all-out assault on it.

Losing the final would represent a setback, as Tipp chase a League, Munster and All-Ireland clean sweep not achieved by the Premier county since 2001.

It’s also four weeks out from the Munster SHC quarter-final with Cork and Ryan would love nothing more than to bag silverware before the serious business begins.

For Galway, it’s the chance to strike a big psychological blow on Tipp before the summer. On all known form, the chances of these two counties meeting in the championship are high and a Galway win would plant a seed of doubt in Tipp minds.

The last two championship meetings between the sides have resulted in an aggregate stalemate, which suggests that little will separate them again, if anything.

6. Use of the bench will prove crucial

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Managers Ryan and Donoghue boast formidable squads as they look ahead to the summer’s championship campaigns – and how they use their substitutes will be a key factor in deciding today’s game.

The imminent return of Jonathan Glynn will provide Galway with a degree of abrasiveness to go with their undoubted attacking skills, while the emergence of young guns Thomas Monaghan and Sean Loftus has provided extra depth.

But right now, Tipp boast the strongest squad in the country, and Ryan has a situation where he has two players competing for most, if not all, positions.

Michael Breen came off the bench and scored four points last Sunday, Daire Quinn scored a point and ‘Bubbles’ provided an assist for Noel McGrath’s second goal while also scoring a point. And when you factor in that Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher has yet to feature this year, Tipp are in a very good place.

As the Cork game comes into focus, players will be anxious to impress, keenly aware that a sub-standard performance could cost them a starting place on 21 May.

Donoghue will also want a big display as focus turns to the Dublin showdown on 28 May and while possession of the shirt is nine-tenths of the law, replacements called upon know that they’re very much in their manager’s thoughts.

After all, ‘Bubbles’ came off the bench to score a goal in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, and earned a starting place in the September showpiece with Kilkenny.

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