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Analysis: Wexford suffer in black period as Galway's simplicity and aerial power wins the day

Wexford, while bringing serious intensity and physicality to yesterday’s Leinster final, crumbled under pressure and Galway will take some stopping in All-Ireland race.

IT TOOK GALWAY a good while to establish full control of yesterday’s Leinster senior hurling final but when they did, they drove it home and left everybody in no doubt that they are a formidable team and very much on a September mission.

Wexford put it up to Galway for 40-45 minutes, and fought courageously.

But from a Wexford viewpoint, they were fatally damaged just before and after half time.

What I mean by that is that Wexford were a little hampered by their style of play.

The strategy of operating with a covering defender, and springing half-backs, worked very well at Wexford Park against Kilkenny in more confined spaces.

But for that style of play to be effective, it has to be very precise, very accurate and it requires huge stamina and energy levels to pull it off.

Wexford just weren’t able to execute what they wanted to do as well as they could have against Galway.

Wexford’s black period

Here’s the first real sign of trouble for Wexford.

It’s a critical stage in the game, and the sides are level at 0-11 each approaching half-time.

Shaun Murphy, Wexford’s covering player all day, was on a huge amount of ball but after gathering possession in the shot below, he’s under pressure and his clearance drifts out over the line:

Here’s another example of a costly score coughed up by Wexford.

From the resultant line-ball, after Murphy had sent the ball out of play, he gathers possession and is in a good position to execute a clearance:

But Murphy plays the ball back to goalkeeper Mark Fanning instead, and he ends up being blocked down:

The ball spins loose into open field and John Hanbury is fouled, with referee Colm Lyons indicating a free in, and Galway move 0-12 to 0-11 clear.

34 minutes 38 seconds: Lee Chin strikes a Wexford free wide.

35:08 – From the resultant Galway puck-out, Joseph Cooney collects it and scores a point. Galway are now 0-13 to 0-11 ahead.

38 minutes (three minutes into stoppage time): Conor McDonald is wide for Wexford from a very scoreable free.

There’s still time left in the first half for Niall Burke to strike a Galway wide, after yet another puck-out win from a long Colm Callanan delivery.

From Mark Fanning’s Wexford puck-out, Daithi Burke pulls off a brilliant catch. As Burke clears, Jack Guiney barrels into Aidan Harte, and is booked.

Galway have a free from where the ball lands, and Joe Canning pops it over to establish a 0-14 to 0-11 half-time lead.

The damage done to Wexford in that short space of time – a nine-minute spell before half-time – was immense.

They could, and should, have had two scores from Chin and McDonald, and they gifted Galway two points from frees. So, from a situation where you’re level at 0-11 each, you’re going in at half-time 0-11 to 0-14 adrift, and it’s a big momentum shift.

In those nine minutes, a lack of composure, poor decision-making, poor shooting and indiscipline hampered the Wexford challenge.

Early in the second half, you had the Conor McDonald Hawkeye wide – another chance missed.

Next comes the Wexford penalty in the 40th minute, when Colm Callanan pulled off a great, diving save.

In that period, before and after half-time, the game had swung in Galway’s direction, not because of a huge amount of good work on their behalf, but because Wexford didn’t execute on the possessions and chances they had.

For me, this black period for Wexford indicates that Galway are much further down their road and journey than their opponents.

It’s the kind of stuff that differentiates between a team coming to the fore and a team very close to the peak of their powers.

Simplicity the key for Galway

Galway have a very simple way of playing the game.

If a team like Wexford sets up with a sweeper against them, they’ll employ a covering player of their own; Aidan Harte, who I discussed last year when Galway counteracted the Clare sweeper, in this column. 

Galway’s philosophy, whether playing against a conventional set-up or a sweeper, remains the same.

They will still go long and direct, whether it’s via Callanan’s puck-outs or Harte, the recipient of a short one, and they’re aggressive under balls coming out of defence.

They’re not playing very much through the middle of the field at all and why would you, when you have Joseph and Conor Cooney, Joe Canning and Conor Whelan?

With that amount of ball-winning ability up front, Galway’s forwards want the ball, and they want it early and fast.

Galway mix it up well here, as early as the third minute, as Harte collects a short puck-out from Callanan:

The ball is long in the direction of Whelan, who get out in front of James Breen, collects possession and is fouled as he takes on the Wexford man:

12th minute: Galway again demonstrate their ability to win 50-50 ball. The score originates from a sideline ball inside their own half. It’s transferred long and Conor Cooney wins a clean catch, before scoring a point.

A bigger point for Wexford to consider is that while Murphy was back there as a covering defender, my view is that they used him as an ultra-defensive player.

Watch his position (circled) here as Cooney strikes over the aforementioned point:

He’s playing almost as a second full-back, which means that he’s covering the full-back line as opposed to the area between the full and half-back lines.

It looked to me that Murphy was positioned there to reduce the goal chances on offer to Galway, and the Tribesmen didn’t look like scoring one.

On the flipside, however, they were creating so many chances outside and racked up a tally of 0-29.

I’d suggest that Wexford should have changed it in the second half, push Murphy further forward because the position he was taking up wasn’t helping any of the other Wexford defenders.

He would have been far more effective playing in front of the full-back line, sweeping across, and that would have made it far more difficult for the likes of Whelan and Cooney to run out and pick up ball, with oceans of space in front of them.

Another good illustration of how Galway took Murphy out of the game was seen in the 13th minute.

It’s another huge puck-out from Callanan but look at how clever Conor Cooney is here, as he touches the dropping ball down in front of him:

That allows Cooney to motor into the space, and he prepares to pick the ball up and slot over a routine point:

As the ball sails over the bar, look at Murphy’s positioning again. He’s the closest Wexford defender to their goal:

The point I wish to make here is that if Murphy is further forward, it’s far more difficult for Cooney to create that space for himself, because Wexford have the extra body there.

Instead, there’s nobody putting pressure on him when he brings the ball to ground, but an extra, covering defender can help to cut that off.

Cooney knows where Murphy is, and he’s in a position where he can pop the ball down in front of himself, and score a point. He’s in full control of the situation but Wexford, with their set-up, have handed him that control.

14:15: Galway have quickly realised that they’re gaining success on long deliveries, and Niall Burke is fouled from another Callanan puck-out.

In one-on-one situations, Galway had the upper hand. Joe Canning was a peripheral figure, while Jason Flynn wasn’t flying, but the Cooneys, Conor Whelan and Niall Burke were profiting.

The game was developing very nicely from a Galway point of view.

20:32: Galway are two points down but Conor Whelan does well under a puck-out and from the break, Joseph Cooney gets free to score.

22:10: Jason Flynn shoots wide but a long delivery from Johnny Coen, collected by Conor Cooney, has helped to create the chance.

22:56: From another long Galway delivery, it’s a nice, easy score for David Burke.

25:08: Another long puck-out and James Breen needlessly concedes a free under the dropping ball, and is booked.

From that list above, it’s evident that Galway were dominating Wexford in the aerial exchanges. Wexford simply couldn’t handle them.

Wexford’s precision play crumbles under pressure

Wexford have a very defined way of playing the game. They work the ball precisely from A to B, from B to C and from C to D.

That’s fine, that’s their way of doing things but the problem is that when you come under pressure and you go a few points down, that style comes under the microscope in a big way.

Every little mistake and inaccuracy puts pressure on the next time you try to do it. Far too often, Wexford got turned over because they weren’t accurate enough, and when they were chasing a game that was getting away from them.

38th minute: Murphy has time to look up and pick out an option, but it ends up with a Galway player on the touchline:

42nd minute: Short puck-out to Murphy. He’s in a good position upon receipt of the ball but sends it towards the Cusack Stand side, and it drifts harmlessly out of play:

44th minute: This one is the worst. The passage of play, lasting 25 seconds, begins below, with Murphy taking another short puck-out:

Murphy’s high-risk ball into midfield is aimed for David Redmond, who collects at the second attempt after Joseph Cooney looked like he would initially gain possession.

Redmond plays a poor ball forward and Johnny Coen intercepts, before moving from midfield to the left touchline. Coen beats Matthew O’Hanlon to the punch in a ground contest and Conor Whelan is then out in front of James Breen.

Whelan appears to be fouled but referee Colm Lyons lets play continue, before he whistles for this foul on Niall Burke:

This is criminal stuff from Wexford, and saps energy from them. It’s also the third example, in a six-minute spell, where Wexford don’t even get the ball into their forward line, despite having primary possession with Murphy from those short puck-outs.

The free awarded to Burke allows Canning to point, and Galway are beginning to move out of sight, now 0-17 to 0-12 in front.

50th minute: Another short puck-out to Murphy but David Burke picks his long delivery out of the air. Play transfers to the other end and Joseph Cooney scores a Galway point.

Wexford were having to work desperately hard to create anything and for their goal, in the 52nd minute, Jack Guiney performed a minor miracle.

He’s surrounded by two Galway players, here:

Guiney does exceptionally well to wriggle free, before playing the ball inside for the on-rushing Diarmuid O’Keeffe, who will tap it into an empty net:

You can’t underestimate Guiney’s role in that because, in truth, it’s a one in 20 chance of scoring a goal, and it’s not sustainable.

59th minute: Lee Chin wins a great puck-out and plays a short ball inside to Paul Morris, but he’s turned over. Galway clear and score a point from Conor Cooney.

There was a huge contrast in styles between the two teams. Wexford set up in a certain way and tried to compete with Galway by using a possession game and short passing.

At times, it worked as they moved Galway around and they shot some good scores in the first half, but it wasn’t a style that would carry them all the way to the finish, and yet they didn’t try to change it even though there was nothing to lose by doing so.

Conclusion

Galway now find themselves in a great position. For me, they’ve been the most impressive team in the country in recent months.

Wexford did bring serious intensity and physicality to the Leinster final table and if their execution at vital times was better, they might have travelled down the stretch a bit more.

But almost all of Galway’s key players are doing well – and producing performances in the 9/10 category.

They’re going to take an awful lot of stopping.

– First published 12.59, 3 July

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