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Galway v. Tipperary: Risk-on Premier to prevail

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

Thursday, 19 November 2020, 16.30

Galway have gone from the doorstep of an All-Ireland semi-final to the toughest possible route back to the same point.

Cruising against a very moderate Kilkenny team, then Richie Hogan -- a genius for the ages -- came on and clearly communicated that he's on a higher plane than the typical inter-county player, and that Brian Cody's teams are the hardest to beat. Up until the last few minutes of the Leinster final, Galway looked to be a nose ahead of Tipperary as the second-best team in the country. They were a bit of a surprise package but, upon glancing though the team, it was clear that they had the personnel to rattle Limerick. However, they have gone from having one foot in an All-Ireland semi-final to a knockout quarter-final. If they can dig out a win, in a venue where Tipperary will be happy to return (with last week's positive associations fresh in their minds), they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

As mentioned last week, Liam Sheedy and Eamon O'Shea -- Tipp's managerial power couple -- have been down this road before: they've negotiated the qualifiers. Their greatest ability is getting inside the heads of their players, unlocking them and letting them to fly. Each time their one of their teams takes the field, they look attuned to the task at hand; not just ready, but tailored. Sheedy and O'Shea understand the essence of their players, and are masterful at harnessing the energy of the group.

After digging out a win against Cork, Tipperary will fancy themselves, whereas Galway's confidence will be dented after handing away the Leinster final. Taking off John McGrath in the first half, arguably one of the best players in the game, shows that the Tipperary management are brave, decisive and risk-on. McGrath wasn't even playing particularly poorly, but he was replaced and a message was sent to all: reputation doesn't matter, you have to deliver. Also, a hard-fought win against a decent Cork team in a knockout game serves to bolster confidence.

Image: Joe Canning.

These are two balanced teams: both have a few thoroughbred backs, some killer forwards, and, sprinkled in, a few players still establishing their reputations. Brian Hogan is a solid keeper but there are doubts about his shot stopping. Cathal Barrett is as good a corner-back as ever played the game, utterly tenacious and a silky ball-player. Ronan Maher is classy, and one of the few players with whom you cannot tell which is his preferred side; he takes side-lines off his right and frees off his left. Brendan Maher is enjoying his late-career resurgence, and Pádraic Maher (albeit poor against Limerick) is generally impassable.

Michael Breen is surely the highest scoring midfielder over the past five years and, for me, one of the best players in the game, appreciating that he can have a quite game now and again. I suspect that Noel McGrath, after an excellent 2019, is starting to fade in stamina but he's still classy and is placed in midfield for his hurling brain. In the forwards, Dan McCormack is highly effective and wins a handful of frees everyday. John McGrath, Séamus Callanan and Jason Forde are the incisive forwards who can put a knife in their opponent. Otherwise, there are a share of players who are learning the ropes.

Image: Noel McGrath fielding against Galway.

For Galway, Eanna Murphy looks classy in goals. Unlucky for Richie Hogan's goal, Murphy's hurley made contact with Hogan's as he was rising the ball and was, therefore, only centimetres away from successfully interrupting Hogan. Daithí and Fintan Burke are solid at the back, and Gearóid McInerney has good defensive instincts. Joseph Cooney is a noble addition to the backs. Cooney is a class player, strong in the air and can hurt the opposition going forward. The defense is supplemented by Pádraic Mannion (who lines out nominally in midfield), so, on the whole, Galway look very capable defensively.

In the forwards, Canning is motoring nicely and Galway are over their dependency on his scoring. Conor Whelan is a player of alternative style who doesn't easily fit the conventional mold of any forward position, but can play in them all and hassles the opposition in every way. Brian Concannon, perhaps a touch light, looks keen and loves to score. Cathal Mannion, in his languid style, oozes class, but there's more in him as he has player-of-the-year ability. Conor Cooney struggles to play up to his potential, but will take marking. Like Tipperary, Galway have a smattering of new and unproven players mixed in.

Prediction: Tipperary by 2 points. This could turn into an epic. I can see Galway rallying: Canning doesn't have too many years left, and this is a good Galway team, so they'll know they should grab this chance, but Tipp should have the slightest edge.

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