Tribal threat : Conor Whelan, senior star for Galway will pose huge threat to Limerick this weekend in Thurles
Hurt can often be a vital ingredient in winning and for that reason I expect Galway to give Limerick a senior challenge in Thurles next Saturday.
The last week or so has been very difficult for people involved in Galway hurling. They lost a man that will be forever connected to the maroon and white. The love of the ash at club level lingered deep within Tony Keady.
On the day of the All Ireland semi final, I met Tony in Croke Park, we didn’t know it then, but that was the last game of hurling he would ever see. It was fitting that it was in Croke Park.
On the Tuesday morning after the game, I was sitting with Micheal Donoghue in Clarinbridge, his phone rang and I could see the colour go from his face.
From that point on our conversation was not about hurling. Donoghue knew him well and only lived two miles from his family home. On the day before, Tony was in great form talking about the joy of beating Tipperary in Croke Park and was looking forward to the All Ireland final. Life, as it often does, got in the way of that aspiration and sadly one of the great centre backs has left us to join a different team.
Tony Keady was involved with Galway at so many levels and I know from the many people I met in Galway last week that this team are ready to challenge Limerick for a place in the All Ireland final.
Limerick will go into Saturday’s game as hot favourites, but we might want to remember that Galway have some very good players and also won the All Ireland minor two years ago.
Limerick will know Conor Whelan from the All Ireland minor semi final in 2014 but the boy they saw then is very much a man now. He is in line to become hurler of year such has been the quality of his performances with the Galway senior team. I would expect him to play at full forward and for that reason Galway will be very direct.
Whelan is a powerful ball winner, his body shape has changed hugely from his minor days. At just twenty his frame and structure make him very difficult to hold. He can manage the ball low or high and for that reason Darragh Fanning will need to be sharp but he will also need support.
Limerick beat Cork in the Munster final but the management will know well that there was plenty of areas that could be improved upon. In fairness to Cork they came with great hunger and for long stages Limerick didn’t seem to match them. I expect Galway to bring a strong challenge and overall I think they have better balance in their team than Cork.
Galway have four of the current senior panel. Conor Whelan is the only first choice player but players like Tomas Monaghan, Sean Loftus and Jack Grealish are really good players.
Another player that will take a bit of minding is Cian Burke. He will most likely play at corner forward and his club form has been top class. Were it not for injury earlier this year I am sure Burke would be part of the senior set up.
When the Galway U21 set up was put together, Michael Donoghue the Galway senior manager, wanted a link with the senior team and the coach of senior team Francis Forde is a selector. The team is managed by Tony Ward.
Galway have played a lot of challenge games but the lack of championship action could prove costly to them. Playing a short game brings risks and this is the type of game plan the Galway U21’s have used up to now.
They have also played against the Galway senior team but those type of games don’t always bring the benefits one would expect. The biggest problem facing Galway is that they are coming in cold while Limerick are playing their fourth game of the championship. That sort of action has to stand to them and Thurles will hold no fears for them either.
If Galway get a hold in the game they could prove difficult to beat. Yes Limerick did show bottle when it was needed against Cork but they have developed the art of going long stages without scoring.
The one area that Limerick really need to improve on is in attack. Some in the forward line just didn’t go well in the Munster final. Those lads will know themselves that they will have to show for the ball and those outside them will have to let it into them.
Some of the Limerick players like to run a fair bit with the ball and when this happens the forwards early run is often picked up. Limerick haven’t been as clinical as expected. They have a lot of ability in attack but they are not playing as a unit. Team selection will be interesting because players like Seamus Flanagan and Brian Ryan can’t be too far away from starting.
It would be a major surprise if Limerick lost this game. They have enough quality to beat Galway but they would do well not to take them for granted. Galway are already in the minor and senior All Ireland finals and that should provide their U21’s with great encouragement on Saturday evening.
One of the most consistent players with U21’s for Limerick has been Colin Ryan. The Pallasgreen man was very commanding in all games to date, his ball winning ability and work rate has played a key part in Limerick doing as well as they have. Cian Lynch has also worked hard at crucial times and I would expect to see more of same against Galway.
Kyle Hayes, up to now, has played as a sweeper and the Kildimo youngster has done really well. The Limerick halfbacks will be required to work hard in this game and cutting the supply of ball to the Galway full forward line will be very important.
While I expect Galway to bring a solid challenge I do feel Limerick’s championship road will have the team in good order for this game. I think overall it has been a very disappointing year as far as quality is concerned at U21 level.
Success at this level, as we well know in Limerick, brings little guarantee of success at senior level.
In Limerick we do have a good crop of players right now and the biggest demand is to get them up to the level required to be good senior hurlers.
Semi finals are about winning and in this regard I fully expect Limerick to book their place in the All Ireland final. It’s very much in their own hands I would expect the various coaches involved with the team will have their homework done.
I was surprised by the amount of people that contacted me in relation to last weeks article about the Limerick underage academy. Many people expressed the view that more players should be coached at underage level in the Divisions and that this would be a great help to clubs. It was interesting to hear from parents who felt the amount of travel needs to be cut down. They told me the pressures involved in trying to get lads to training and of the pressure young lads put on themselves to make various teams. As mentioned last week, life itself will bring pressure it might be important to add a bit more fun and from here development will take place.