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Tue 28-Aug-2001 11:40
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Galway's Real Man-of-the-Match: Mike McNamara
Galway’s victory in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final confirmed what An Moltóir has suspected all along – that the present Kilkenny team is made up mainly of hurlers of moderate ability whose championship win last year was due to a combination of fanatical zeal and the ability of their full forwards to score goals at vital times…
Attempts to compare them with great Kilkenny teams of the past are outrageous. Once you contain their full forwards there is no Plan B. As in the 1999 final, wet conditions neutralised their close control and sleight of foot and gave the advantage to the defenders. Like Cork against Offaly last year, Kilkenny panicked in the second half and sent a stream of fruitless ball into the Galway goalmouth looking for goals, when two or three points could have set them up for the late killer goal which has served the Cats so well in the past. In the end, too many of their players were unnerved by the quality and ferocity of the Tribesmen’s challenge.
However, Kilkenny can have few complaints about being undone by bad weather. In 1992, they were the underdogs when their superior commitment and a wet day helped them overcome Cork’s prima donnas. And in 1983, the Rebels’ poor tactical use of a gale-force wind was crucial in their downfall against the same opposition. What goes around comes around…
The media hype about Eugene Cloonan’s man-of-the-match performance was greatly misplaced. Given the amount of scoring opportunities he was presented with, his contribution was decidedly modest. In all, he took 16 frees and scored from ten of them – a poor enough return at this level. One of these scores was the first goal which resulted from a mis-hit shot which the Kilkenny goalie should have stopped routinely. While Cloonan’s second goal came at a decisive moment, it also had a touch of good fortune about it, not only in that he barely made contact with his kick, but he could easily have been pulled up by the referee for both pushing and pulling in the preceding passage of play.
Apart from his goal, Cloonan’s contribution from general play was minimal. The first time he actually got the ball in his hand was from the rebound following his goal attempt from a free in the 44th minute. Even this attempt was ill-judged, as Galway desperately needed to get a score on the board at that juncture after a series of bad misses. Thereafter, Cloonan hit two bad wides from open play and had one shot blocked down.
The real heroes for Galway last Sunday were the outfield players who set up the frees for Cloonan, and the defenders who placed the shackles on the Kilkenny forward line. The main contributors were the two Kerins’s, the remarkably composed Richie Murray, Liam Hodgins and Ollie Canning, all of whom played the ball between ten and twelve times – a very high strike rate in a hurling game (and particularly high in the case of corner back Canning). Mention should also be made of substitute Brian Higgins who played the ball six times in the second half.
However, as far as An Moltóir is concerned, Galway’s real man-of-the-match has to be
This Galway side had his mark all over it – the high fitness level and the tremendous focus and commitment. He even had Richie Murray doing a "Colin Lynch" before the throw-in (for which he should have been booked). The Tribesmen seem to have been transformed overnight from a team without leaders to a team full of them. And, with McNamara's ould enemy Tipperary next in line, one can expect an even mightier effort by Galway in the final.
In the other semi-final, Wexford found that, while fourteen men can manage against fifteen, playing thirteen against fourteen is a different kettle of fish, as it gives the team with the numerical advantage sufficient space to exploit the extra man. To give the Yellow-Bellies credit, they never gave up right to the end, and who knows what the result might have been with numerical parity, especially given the wet conditions?
The ‘meeja ‘devoted considerable attention to the fact that Pat Horan did not see the incident which led to Liam Dunne and Brian O’Meara being red carded. This is irrelevant. Pat Aherne is himself a top-class inter-county referee, so there is no reason why Horan should not have acted on his advice. An Moltóir has little sympathy for Dunne, who is no stranger to this territory. And O’Meara will have learned – along with Henry Sheflin – that the appropriate response to this kind of provocation from defenders is not to prove you are a man and reply in kind, but to simply walk away and hope that an eagle-eyed linesman or umpire will provide protection. The GAA’s new disciplinary regime has made the needling and jostling which is an ugly part of the culture of Gaelic games a very risky business indeed.
Hopefully, the fate of Liam Dunne and Greg Kennedy will have brought this home forcefully to the cowardly "hard men" of hurling.
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