Cool for Cats – John Martin column
THE 1979 FA Cup decider became known as the five-minute final. Arsenal were leading Man United 2-0 and looked like easing their way to the trophy when United scored 86th and 88th minute goals. Amazingly Arsenal nicked a winner in the 89th minute, thus elevating a previously boring FA Cup final to legendary status.
On Sunday, hurling had its own five-minute final, not so much for the first half goal exchange but for the passage of events between the 45th and 49th minutes. It was then that we knew where the Liam MacCarthy Cup was going to be spending the next 12 months.
Cyril Donnellan’s disallowed goal, a sideline cut from Joe Canning, then his shot off the post, Kilkenny going upfield for a point, and then Donnellan getting sent off. After that, there was no way back for Galway.
In truth, we probably knew beforehand which hotel Liam was going to on Sunday.
Had those two ‘goals’ gone in, Galway would still only have led by two, and with Kilkenny dominating the way they were, a two-point cushion, even allowing for a bit of momentum added to the Galway attack, was never going to see Anthony Cunningham’s side to their first title since 1988.
Instead Brian Cody’s side lifted their ninth title in 13 seasons, and Galway can have no qualms about the result. Donnellan’s disallowed goal could not be allowed to stand. The whistle went well before he struck the ball and, unfortunate as it was for Galway, there’s only one way the referee can call it.
The key for Kilkenny this time round was the way they responded to Galway’s first half goals. The Cats were lording it pretty much from the throw-in, but when David Burke got his first goal, the Galway crowd didn’t even get any time to enjoy the lead, with TJ Reid popping over a point to restore parity before they had retaken their seats.
They got the lead again through Burke two minutes later. This time the response was almost as immediate and even more emphatic, Richie Power tapping home a rebound to the net to again bring the sides level.
The same pattern emerged as the drawn game, except this time it was a lot earlier in the proceedings. After half-time in the drawn game, Galway scored just one point in 20 minutes. In the second quarter of Sunday’s game, they went 11 minutes without a score, Canning was drawn out from the 21-yard line and was left again foraging for possession round in the middle third of Croke Park.
Therein lies Cunningham’s challenge in the next few years. Their game plan requires huge work-rate. When that work-rate isn’t enough to allow five-to-12 to create space and use the ball effectively, they simply can’t keep the score board ticking over.
Again on Sunday they had a poor return from their forwards. Canning’s 70th-minute point was their first from open play by a starting forward. He added a second just before the finish, bringing Galway’s total return from play by the starting six forwards to 2-2. That’s why Canning is brought out to the ‘45’, not as a tactic to confuse the opposition back line.
It’s a game plan that’s going to win Galway the majority of their games, but establishing them as number two behind Kilkenny? I’m not so sure. What’s needed in the west is a couple of scoring forwards who can keep the score board ticking over from scraps of possession.
It’s unfair to compare any side with Kilkenny, given their conveyor belt of talent, but while Cunningham stuck with the same starting 15 from the drawn game, Cody made changes. The addition of Wally Walsh to the starting line-up was the sign of a manager supremely confident in his own judgement.
It also says a lot about Cody that the first thing he said to Walsh – who, let’s remember, scored 1-3 when making his championship debut in an All-Ireland final – was to ask him whether or not he was available for the Walsh Cup!
Maybe Cunningham just doesn’t have that confidence is his judgement just yet. Or maybe he doesn’t have the players?
With the benefit of hindsight, starting James Skehill was a mistake, but wasn’t a decision that cost Galway the title. I don’t think it’s a case of a manager chickening out of making tough calls – you make a judgement, sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s wrong.
Remember Cody started an injured Henry Shefflin in 2010 and the King lasted just 12 minutes.
A harder call to make would be to leave the likes of Damien Hayes off the starting 15. In the drawn game, only two forwards scored from play, same as the replay. Hayes has been such an outstanding servant to Galway but his form has dropped badly in the last few games.
That said, it’s been a great year for Galway, given the lows of 2011 and Cunningham does have other options to bring in during the league next year. Jonny Glynn and Joe Cooney both made a bit of an impact on Sunday when coming on so it’s not as if he has nothing to work with, and when the dust settles he personally will look back on what must be the most remarkable year of his life.
As for Kilkenny, the obituaries can be put back on the shelf for another few years at least. Cody and Shefflin have both already put on record their hunger for the Perfect 10. I wrote last week that the column in the week of the All-Ireland final has been a fairly easy one to write over the past few years due to Kilkenny’s dominance. I don’t think next year is going to be any different.