Tipp and Galway in hot and cold sweat

Managers remain upbeat but counties must show more consistency to make progress


9 March 2014; The Galway manager Anthony Cunningham. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Round 3, Kilkenny v Galway, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Galway boss Anthony Cunningham is looking at the positives despite a difficult start to the Allianz Hurling League

MARTIN BREHENY – PUBLISHED 15 MARCH 2014 02:30 AM Irish Independent

Last Sunday, at venues 30 miles apart, Anthony Cunningham and Eamon O’Shea were rummaging for positives from second successive defeats for Galway and Tipperary in the Allianz Hurling League.

Galway, who were beaten by Waterford in the previous round, had lost to Kilkenny by three points in Nowlan Park, while Clare had left Tipperary, who lost to Kilkenny in Round 2, with a seven-point deficit in Semple Stadium.

It left the Division 1A table showing Galway and Tipperary in fourth and fifth positions in a group of six.

Despite being in the lower half of the table, Cunningham and O’Shea presented an upbeat front, even if the source of the positivity wasn’t immediately apparent.

“It’s all about performance and we saw certain things there that went well, but we need to do that for 70 minutes. While we’d be happy with some of the play, there are parts we need to tidy up,” said Cunningham.

“We were opened up at times. We’re still trying to work hard, trying to improve. Last year, we won games, but it didn’t tell us where we were in terms of personnel; this tells us exactly where we are and how much we have to do,” said O’Shea.

The message from both managers translated thus: “this is a work-in-progress. We know where we are, where we’re going and how we’ll get there.”


Quite whether Galway and Tipperary supporters were as convinced is debatable, especially after big names from both counties tossed some incendiaries into the mix this week.

“The lack of conviction (against Kilkenny) is the one thing that worried me,” said former All-Ireland winning captain Conor Hayes, who later managed Galway.

Declan Fanning, right half-back on the Tipperary team that won the 2010 All-Ireland title wasn’t impressed by what he saw in Thurles. “There was so much room in front of our full-back line, it was appalling really. After 10 minutes, I was trying to figure out who was playing midfield, because our two wing-backs were out at midfield and we had both our midfielders out there too. It was crazy stuff,” he said.

He went on talk about how there was “no communication whatsoever” between the players in Tipperary’s defensive half; about how as far back as the opening league game with Waterford there was a “sense of nervousness about the players and their touch” and about how “there seems to be a little bit of pressure on the players after last year and after one win (from three league games).”

Meanwhile, Hayes wasn’t impressed with the attempt to turn 2012 All Star midfielder, Iarla Tannian into a centre-back, contending that he’s needed further forward.

Besides, Hayes doesn’t believe Tannian is suited to centre-back, seeing him as adequate for league hurling, but trouble-bound if he’s still there later on in the year.

“We were happy with our battle in the last 20 minutes, but there was a while when we were off our game,” said Cunningham, hoping no doubt that the closing stages would become more typical of Galway than a first half which they lost by nine points. Trouble is, last Sunday wasn’t the first time Galway have switched off for a long period, which left them with far too much to do.

Meanwhile, O’Shea was talking about how he wanted his players to be happy in themselves. “I’m trying to get the lads to enjoy what they’re doing. If they do enjoy it, they can play better. That’s really the task for me – to make sure when they come out they can play with a bit more freedom,” he said.

All of which sounds fine, but there was so little freedom of expression in Tipperary’s play last Sunday that at times they looked as if they were shackled by invisible chains. Nor was there any real confidence in how they played, no real sense that they believed they could match the All-Ireland champions.

In fairness, much of the credit for that must go to Clare, whose style of play completely baffled Tipperary. Fanning’s criticism of their defensive alignment may be valid, but they might well have got away with it against less creative opposition. Not so against Clare, who have a trick for every occasion.

Still, it was very disconcerting for Tipperary to see Clare whip in four goals in 53 minutes, especially since Kilkenny had hit them for five goals a week earlier. It leaves Tipperary with a total giveaway of 9-51 (78 points) after three games, which is by far the highest in the group. Much of the damage was done last Sunday before Conor O’Mahony brought his calming presence to the defence and with Padraic Maher back for tomorrow’s game, the approach routes to Darren Gleeson’s goal will have more checkpoints than over the last two weekends.

The big conundrum for both Tipperary and Galway now is where exactly they are headed. The gloss applied by Galway in the 2012 championship was for one season only, followed by a return to the flaky surface of previous years.

They are still mired in uncertainty down the middle while remaining prone to inexplicable mood swings. Contrast, for instance, the expansive efficiency which underpinned their win over Dublin in the opening round of the league with the patchy performances against Waterford and Kilkenny. It was a return to last year’s frustrating inconsistencies which ultimately led to championship wipe-outs by Dublin and Clare.

And while James Skehill’s departure from the squad this week may not be a huge loss in playing terms, since Colm Callanan is a better goalkeeper, it’s still an attention-grabbing development that Galway could do without. The Galway public have little optimism that this year will produce anything other than another bout of frustration, a theory supported by early season developments.

For, while Galway are below full-strength, there’s no sense that even when they have a full hand it will deal enough aces to trump all the opposition. Hayes referred this week to their lack of ball-winners in attack, a difficulty which has been around for quite some time.

Tipperary have much the same problem and also share Galway’s tendency to mix hot and cold, often in the same game. O’Shea made it clear from the start of the season that all he wanted out of the league was to get a settled team for the championship opener against Limerick. However, it’s impossible to build stability when losing games, which is why the rest of the league is so important to Tipperary.

A defeat tomorrow would leave them with real relegation worries (they face Dublin in the last round), which is scarcely the scenario O’Shea envisaged. Mind you, if he’s concerned with Tipperary’s high giveaway rate in their last two games, he’s hiding it well.

“We came down here and tried; that’s the way it goes. That’s sport, the better team won again. So, when you’re beaten you go home and try to get better,” was his apparently carefree response to conceding 5-20 against Kilkenny after suffering a 16-point turnaround in 42 minutes.

Asked last Sunday how much pressure Tipperary were under after being beaten by Clare, O’Shea replied: “I have a lot of things to be pressurised about and this isn’t one.”

Whether the Tipperary public are as cheerful about hurling life at present is an altogether different matter.

Galway supporters have become so accustomed to volatility that it’s now their default setting. The trouble is that the same mindset appears to have got into the squad’s heads.

Hence the highs and the lows, but not the solid consistency required to make real progress.


Home comforts? Not for Galway

Playing Galway in Pearse Stadium will hold no fears for Tipperary. who have an excellent record there since its reopening after development in 2003.

Since then, they have played Galway seven times at the Salthill venue, winning five, drawing one and losing one.

Galway are seeking their first win over Tipperary in league or championship since 2007. The counties drew in the 2008 league (group games), but since then, Tipperary have won all seven ties, three by margins of nine or more points.

They won by 14 points in last year’s league clash. It’s 7-2 to Tipperary with one draw from the last 10 meetings.

Last 10 clashes

2013: Tipperary 4-22 Galway 1-20, Pearse Stadium (League).

2012: Tipperary 2-20 Galway 2-18, Thurles (League).

2011: Tipperary 4-23 Galway 1-14, Pearse Stadium (League).

2010: Tipperary 3-17 Galway 3-16, Croke Park (All-Ireland quarter-final).

2010: Tipperary 2-17 Galway 0-14, Thurles (League).

2009: Tipperary 1-17 Galway 1-15, Pearse Stadium (League).

2008: Tipperary 3-18 Galway 3-16, Gaelic Grounds (League final).

2008: Tipperary 0-16 Galway 0-16, Pearse Stadium (League).

2007: Galway 0-26 Tipperary 3-13, Pearse Stadium (League).

2006: Galway 3-11 Tipperary 0-12, Thurles (League).

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