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Thu 30-Jul-2009 20:26
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Galway not at the races in the finishing straight
The bookies got it wrong again last Sunday as both favourites bit the dust in the All-Ireland hurling quarter finals in Thurles.
And, indeed, neither result could be regarded as particularly surprising. In the first game, while Dublin played some lovely hurling and had the winning of the game in their hands, ultimately they were undone by their own inexperience and Limerick’s dogged perseverance. It didn’t help them that Alan McCrabbe’s free taking was below its normal level of virtual perfection whereas Gavin O’Mahony gave a master class in long distance shooting, ably assisted by Andrew O’Shaughnessy closer in. With their newcomers gaining in experience and showing glimpses of ability, Limerick should not be written off against a Tipperary team which could hardly list dogged perseverance as one of its prime characteristics.
No team (apart perhaps from Kilkenny) should be given odds of almost 3-1 on at this stage of the competition, and both the bookies and the media ‘hypers’ were made to eat humble pie as the Déise came with their late surge to snatch victory against Galway. On the balance of possession and scoring chances created, Galway probably should have won this game, but the idea that they were clearly the better team and should have been well ahead going into the fateful closing minutes does not stand up to scrutiny.
Galway dominated the early stages of the game, winning all of Waterford’s first five puck outs. However, for the rest of the first half, Waterford had parity of possession, both on their own puck outs and on Galway’s. Somewhat surprisingly, there was very little difference between the teams in terms of individual plays in the half, with Galway just ahead 78-75. In that half, Galway had nine unsuccessful scoring attempts to Waterford’s six, so there wasn’t a whole lot between the teams going in at half time.
In the second half, Galway actually played the ball much more often than their opponents, 101-78. Much of this difference can be accounted for by the way this Galway team hunts in packs, involving a lot of flicks and short hand passes. However, Galway struggled to get good primary possession after the change of ends, winning only a quarter of their own puck outs and struggling to get clean possession on Waterford’s puck outs. Certainly, Galway’s apparent advantage in terms of individual plays was not reflected in the number of scoring chances created – Waterford scored ten times to Galway’s seven in the second half, while both teams had six unsuccessful scoring attempts.
The main difference between the two teams in terms of plays arose at midfield, where Kevin Hynes (18) and Ger Farraher (17) played the ball 35 times between them. The original Waterford midfield pairing of Shane O’Sullivan and Jamie Nagle only played the ball 17 times in aggregate, and although neither of these players finished the game in midfield, the additional plays from the midfield area made by Waterford cannot have been more than five or six. This sector has been a major problem for the Déise this year, and one wonders how much longer Davy Fitzgerald will desist from playing either (or both) Brick Walsh or Stephen Molumphy there.
There has been much talk about Waterford’s finishing power which was also in evidence in the replay against Limerick and in the Munster final against Tipperary, who failed to score in the last ten minutes. Some have attributed this to tiredness on Galway’s part, due either to having to play three weeks in a row or to their high-energy style of play leaving them drained in the closing stages (a theory supported by their high play count against Waterford). However, this ignores the fact that Waterford have generally finished strongly during their recent period of hurling prominence, as evidenced, for example, by their strong finishes in the 2002 and 2004 Munster finals, the 2007 league final and the drawn game against Cork in the same year, when they scored 1-1 in the last minute to draw level.
There was much media and website coverage of Diarmuid Kirwan’s refereeing of last Sunday’s game, so we had a look at this aspect of the game for this week’s column. We found that five of the frees awarded to Waterford were of the dodgy variety, compared with just one of for Galway. On the other hand, we identified nine situations where Waterford should have been awarded frees but weren’t, compared to just three in the case of Galway. So on balance, things probably worked out fairly even between the two teams. Kirwan was particularly poor at spotting hurleys being held, and one wonders when are the GAA going to allow linesmen to flag fouls as they do in soccer. When they have top-class referees running the line in these games anyway, it seems a pretty obvious move, but then the GAA have never been good at doing the obvious.
Both Kevin Hynes (41) and Ger Farraher (45) broke the forty quality points threshold from their 18 and 17 plays respectively (in our system of awarding quality points for plays on a scale of 1-5). Farraher certainly justified his return to the Galway team with two storming performances in a row (something he seemed to be incapable of in the past). Two other Galway players, Ollie Canning (38 points from 17 plays – a very high play rate for a corner back) and Aonghus Callanan (32/12) broke the 30 points barrier, a feat managed by only one Waterford player, John Mullane (32/12). Interestingly, only five Waterford outfield players scored more quality points than goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy’s 25. Of the Waterford players who played the entire game, the lowest points tally was garnered by Brick Walsh (16/7), who was by far their most effective player in the Munster final.
So, for the second year in a row, Waterford have managed to get an All-Ireland semi-final without playing particularly impressively. The big question is: can they now turn it on when they really need to?
Individual play tallies (quality points total in brackets):
Waterford 153 (349): Hennessy C 11 (25); Murphy E 10 (20); Kearney A 7 (17); Connors N 8 (18); Browne T 11 (27); Walsh M 7 (16); Prendergast D 12 (24); Nagle J 5 (11); O’Sullivan S 12 (26); Prendergast S 13 (26); Molumphy S 12 (29); Moran K 9 (24); Mullane J 12 (32); Kelly E 9 (19); Casey S 7 (17); Shanahan D 3 (6); Shanahan M 3 (8); Walsh S 2 (4).
Galway 179 (417): Callanan C 5 (13) Moore F 12 (29); McEntee E 9 (24); Canning O 17 (38); Joyce D 13 (23); Lee J 12 (27); Lynch E 14 (28); Farragher G 17 (45); Hynes K 18 (41); Callanan A 12 (32); Donnellan C 14 (28); Smyth A 6 (15); Hayes D 10 (26); Canning J 8 (22); Healy N 8 (16); Gantley J 3 (9); Hayes K 1 (1).
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