GALWAY produced the perfect storm against Kilkenny — it should require a lower storm category to blow Cork out of the 2012 championship.
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Because for the Rebels to make it through to a first All-Ireland final since 2006, and just a second since they beat Galway in September a year before that, the stars have to misalign.
We say that for this reason: any astrologer worth a bucket of Eoin Kellys would find more spark in the Galway end of the sky. Anthony Cunningham brings with him the big names, the bright lights and the star dust. Unless the Leinster final performance turns out to be a fluke, an oh-so-familiar Galway one-off where it turns out Chicken Licken was right about the sky falling down, then it is difficult to see past the Tribe.
A few acorns of hope for Cork, however. They have scoring power and have had a number of encouraging results this year — beating both Kilkenny and Tipp in the league — with only the league final massacre representing a black star against Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
The issue is that he has been rearranging his instruments ever since:
six, three, three and three personnel changes have been made for each of the championship games since. Barry-Murphy has only changed one starter this time from the team that was originally named for the quarter-final. Niall McCarthy has been dropped in favour of Jamie Coughlan, who took Conor Lehan’s place because of illness. It seems JBM has gone for a starting team full of pacy stickmen, thus giving Cunningham something to think about.
The pressure is on Galway to win but that doesn’t mean Cork don’t have something to lose. There is progress at stake and an All-Ireland final place. But does JBM know what his team is though? Darren Sweetnam seemed an obvious choice to come back in because his engine can match Andy Smith’s and his running power turns defences, but Lorcan McLoughlin is a good alternative. Lehane will return after illness and it will require his most precocious performance yet to keep Cork in the game. Indeed the Rebels continue to roll on despite Lehane and captain Patrick Horgan simmering under the surface. If they can explode… but it’s a big if.
Look at form, they failed to put away a 14-man Tipperary side at home.
Yes, that was forgivable but they struggled against an Offaly side that the Tribe had eviscerated and were opened up at times by an emerging Wexford team. Still, they won those two games by seven and 10 points, so they have a kick down the home stretch.
Expectation may be the biggest psychological obstacle for Galway now.
For a month or more, their backs are red raw from being patted.
Tipperary know the feeling: they blitzed Waterford is last year’s Munster final and failed to play with the same intensity thereafter.
That’s the pitfall the Tribe face, and all without the pedigree of already winning an All-Ireland with this group.
Tactically, it’s a fascinating game because Cork have to balance the inside threat of Joe Canning with the roaming charges Damien Hayes will bill them for. The latter Portumna man has been exceptional in recent games, most notably since he was part of a full-forward line that was substituted in its entirety inside a half hour against Kilkenny in the league.
As a consequence of his movement in and out the field, space should, in theory anyway, be created for the most dangerous forward on the pitch. Stephen McDonnell will pick up the Canning detail but to keep on his tail is a mammoth task. The Cork full-back was dropped after being bullied by Eoin Larkin in the league final and only regained his place for the Waterford quarter-final after a succession of others wore the shirt with limited success.
McDonnell performed quite well on Shane Walsh in Thurles the last day out but the latter was really coming into the game before he was injured in a collision with his own player, Eoin McGrath. Canning is a step up and if he was able to snap a ball over Jackie Tyrrell to score a goal, the Cork square has a lot to be concerned about.
Like Hayes, Canning showed in the Leinster final how willing he is to move out the country — seen most noticeably when he hooked Kilkenny forward Richie Hogan on the Galway ’65.
That was a signal that there is a new Galway. But we’ve been here before, or have we? Yes they flopped last year when Dublin restricted them to just 2-07 against Dublin and the Déise beat them by 10 points.
Two flat performances, devoid of intensity — precisely what beat Kilkenny. Things seem to have changed and the relegation play-off replay win over Dublin heralded that — the Leinster title was their coronation..
We’ve rattled on about it before but it was the dirty war that cleaned out Kilkenny. If you’re going to win 30 of 43 50-50 balls that are there for either side, you will control the game. When each of the first 14 puckouts end up in the palm of a Galway man (13 of which were taken by the opposition), there’s clearly a fire driving you. Should you forbid Kilkenny — the most dominant team of all time — from taking a shot from for almost a half hour, you warrant favouritism in your next game.
Not to mention that recent history suggests Galway will prevail over Cork. In the side’s most recent clashes with something of substance on the line — the 2010 league final, last year’s championship qualifier, and even a tight league game this year with both in search of confidence — it has been the Leinster usurpers who have put the vici with the veni and vidi.
The order of the task for Cork is tall; there are plenty of reasons to say that. High on the list is that most precious of commodities, goals. Both teams can score them but the Tribe have more archers — Canning, Davy Burke, Hayes and such. Their superiority out the field should give them more arrows too. Apropos of that reasoning, it makes sense to bundle your chips on the maroons.
So Galway through to the final unless, of course, they’re hit by a perfect storm.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter @ShaneSaint