Preview: Allianz HL D1 Final - Tipperary v Galway
Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final
Tipperary v Galway, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 3.30pm (TG4)
By John Harrington
The once red-hot hurling rivalry between Tipperary and Galway has cooled since the inferno of the late eighties, but that may be about to change.
When you look at the talent and age-profile of both teams, there’s a good chance these two counties will be locking horns in many high-stakes matches like Sunday’s League Final over the coming years.
Recent encounters would suggest there’s little to separate the two teams, which is another essential ingredient for a good rivalry.
Galway were one-point victors in 2015 All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final, last year’s League encounter was a draw, and Tipperary were one-point victors in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
If Galway versus Tipp is to become the defining hurling rivalry of the next few years, then the onus is on Galway to make it happen.
The nature of Tipperary’s All-Ireland Final success last year and the manner in which they’ve set about their business this year bears the hallmarks of a team that will is capable of winning more silverware in the short to medium term.
Galway have yet to prove they’re capable of the same, which is why Sunday’s League Final is such a huge match for the Tribesmen.
Win it, and they’ll have announced themselves as a genuine force and go into the All-Ireland Championship with some serious momentum.
Lose it, and all the old doubts that have gone hand in hand with Galway hurling for the best part of 30 years now will resurface once more.
The potential in this Galway team is obvious, but they still have a lot to prove.
They were impressive against Limerick in the League semi-final, but you’d wonder how much that had to do with the paucity of Limerick’s challenge.
Waterford are the only Division 1A team that Galway have beaten this year and their comeback in that match was impressive, but there’s also an asterix beside the result because Waterford started with what was almost a second-string selection.
Consistency still seems to be an issue for a Galway side that is capable of blowing hot and cold not just from match to match, but within the 70 minutes of a match.
Their awful start against Waterford and the manner in which they faded late on against Wexford would make you worry if you were a Galway supporter.
On a more positive note, it does look like they’re bedding down a team with most of the important component parts in place.
They have huge firepower in attack with players like Joe Canning, Connor Cooney, Cathal Mannion, and Conor Whelan capable of shooting the lights on any given day.
David Burke and Johnny Coen are now set in stone as the first-choice midfield partnership, and you could easily argue they’re the very best pairing in that position in the country.
Their biggest issue in the last couple of years has been that they haven’t set their defensive spine in stone.
Daithi Burke has been used as a specialist man-marker to nullify the opposition team’s best forward, but this has effectively meant that neither the full-back nor centre-back positions have had a permanent figure, which isn’t ideal.
It looks like John Hanbury and Gearoid McInerney are now being given the opportunity to settle in those positions, but it will be interesting to see whether Galway will revert to type against Tipperary and pick specific match-ups rather than have their own players stick to their positions.
It’s never a good sign of a team if it doesn’t have a commanding full-back and centre-back who will play in those positions regardless of the opposition, and Sunday will tell us whether this is still an issue for Galway.
What we can be sure of is that Sunday’s game is going to be a seriously physical battle.
Tipperary’s athleticism and physical conditioning were a huge part of their All-Ireland success last year, but Galway will feel like they can match them on that front.
Not only do they have some very big men in all lines of the field, they also have Tipperary’s former S&C coach, Lukasz Kirszenstein, in their backroom team now.
Kirszenstein was very highly rated by the Tipperary players and his defection to Galway after last year’s All-Ireland Championship was a real source of annoyance in the Tipp camp.
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue was previously a member of the Tipperary backroom team when Eamon O’Shea was manager so knew just how good Kirszenstein clearly was and head-hunted him.
That little sub-plot will surely add some spice to the battle of wits between him and Tipperary manager Michael Ryan on the side-line.
As for the contest between the white-lines, it will be defined by a number of crucial battles.
Galway dominated Tipperary in the middle of the field in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and will seek to do so again through David Burke and Johnny Coen.
Tipperary aren’t looking so powerful in their own engine-room right now because Brendan Maher doesn’t have a settled and in-form partner.
Michael Breen impressed as a sub against Wexford, but that was as a centre-forward, and it seems likely Jason Forde will be given the nod to partner Maher again.
Forde is a classy hurler and a great scorer of long-range points, but he may not have the athleticism and all-round midfield game to match the likes of Coen and Burke.
Tipperary will feel though that if they can at least break even in the middle of the field, then their forwards are better equipped to build a winning score than Galway’s, even without Seamus Callanan.
That’s as much due to the fact that the Tipperary defence is hurling so well at the moment as it with the form of men like John McGrath, Noel McGrath, and Dan McCormack.
The Tipp half-back line of the two Maher brothers and Seamus Kennedy is physically powerful and full of hurling, and behind them the full-back line of Cathal Barrett, James Barry, and Michael Cahill gives little away.
This game is being billed as a shoot-out in many quarters because of the quality in both forward lines, but ultimately it may be decided by the greater solidity of a Tipperary defence that looks more settled and sure of itself than Galway’s.
TIPPERARY: Darren Gleeson; Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Michael Cahill; Seamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher; Brendan Maher, Jason Forde; Dan McCormack, Michael Breen, Steven O'Brien; Noel McGrath, John O'Dwyer, John McGrath.
GALWAY: Colm Callanan; Adrian Tuohy, Daithi Burke, Paul Killeen; Padraig Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Jason Flynn, Joe Canning, Joseph Cooney; Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney.