Shane Cooney is hoping small improvements will make the difference for Galway in 2021.
Shane Cooney is hoping small improvements will make the difference for Galway in 2021. 

Cooney and Galway searching for the extra inches in 2021

By Kevin Egan

When the dust settled on the 2020 All-Ireland senior hurling championship, there was no doubt as to who was the best team in Ireland. In a lot of people’s minds, there wasn’t much doubt about who was at the front of the chasing pack either. Galway’s 0-27 to 0-24 defeat to the Shannonsiders in the semi-final was as close as anyone managed to come to usurping the eventual winners, and this year’s Allianz Hurling League campaign more or less rubber stamped that.

Galway picked up four good wins, including a significant win over Limerick at Pearse Stadium, and they look like a team that only needs to find very small touches of improvement here and there to get to the level that will put them right where they need to be to compete strongly for the Liam MacCarthy cup.

Shane Cooney was corner back for the Tribesmen in that semi-final defeat to Limerick, and the St. Thomas’ player feels that both personally and as a team, they are making that small, incremental progress.

“It was pretty solid league overall” he said this week.

“We’re coming out there with a couple of wins, one or two hiccups along the way but I think that we’ve definitely blooded a lot of young players which is great to see and it sets us up nicely for championship. It certainly helps the competition on the panel as well”.

Cooney disagreed with the suggestion that they might have treated Limerick as the benchmark for where they needed to get to.

“I think we focus on ourselves and where we’re at. On any given day a couple of breaks can go your way or they can go against you and that’s what will decide a game. From our point of view we focus on ourselves, we just try and put ourselves in the best position we can, physically, mentally and also from a team point of view. We’ve a great backroom team and set up in our management team who have their vision for where we want to go to so I think putting that altogether certainly makes us competitive overall”.

On a personal level, Cooney featured in three of the five Galway games during the league, and understands that he too has to keep working on his game to make sure he holds his championship starting slot.

“You’re always trying to build on different areas whether that’s physically – you’re trying to build speed, you’re trying to build agility, you’re trying to build from an aerial perspective on a technical side” he explained.

“Then there’s other areas as well from a tactical side that you try to improve always to learn the game more. There’s the mental side of it too making sure that you’re in the best position going out onto the pitch on any giving day”.

Some of this change has been forced by a management call to switch him out to the half-back line, which is a considerable change in role.

“It’s a new challenge for me. Something that I’ve certainly embraced – there’s a lot I can learn from it” he said.

“There are a lot of differences between the half-back line and full-back line especially in the modern game. Regardless of what position you find yourself, you could have to rotate at any given moment in time. I think it’s certainly added to my game being able to fit into that position. Even if I do find myself at centre-back I know that I can feed into corner-back with confidence as well.

“In the full-back line the ball is probably hitting grass in front of you more so. It is more difficult to read the game. In the half-back line you’re trying to read where the ball is coming from at any given point and more-so trying to get on a break or win an aerial ball. Whereas in the full-back line you’re just tracking your man and making sure that he’s not getting the ball in his hand”.

He’s sure of one thing – it’s all about forward momentum, that trying to return to four years ago won’t be of any use.

“After 2017, I guess Limerick came the following year and raised the bar again. The game is definitely getting faster and faster, there’s more goals being scored, I think it’s great to see both from a players point of view and also as entertainment for a spectator”.