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Inside Track

Portumna let All-Ireland Club champions off the hook

John McIntyre

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

SINCE the club’s last of five senior hurling title triumphs in 2009, Portumna could be forgiven for thinking that fate is conspiring against them in their efforts to chalk up the half-dozen of championship successes.

A combination of injuries, suspensions and some bad luck has thwarted their efforts to even reach another county final in the interim, but they still appeared the team to beat in 2013.

A first round group win over reigning All-Ireland champions St. Thomas’ certainly laid down a marker for the rest of the campaign, but Portumna are no longer bullet proof like they were when in their prime. They subsequently carelessly lost to Clarinbridge and also flirted with a shock defeat to an admittedly much-improved Ardrahan outfit in the recent quarter-final.

Advancing years is clearly catching up on some of Portumna’s great servants, but there remains an aura about them and the vast majority of other clubs around the county would still be less intimidated at the prospect of facing St. Thomas’ than Ollie Canning and company. Their movement and link up play can still be exceptional, but the team’s defence lacks the overall security of a few years ago even if the Portumna forwards remain nearly as menacing as ever.

Portumna were the better team in the second of last Sunday’s county semi-finals and when Andy Smith sent over a glorious effort from the left wing to put them six clear in the final quarter at Kenny Park, they looked to have the hard work done. Joe Canning had started to cut loose around midfield and it was difficult to see how an injury-hit St. Thomas’ were going to salvage a result, even if young Eanna Burke’s probings were just about keeping them in the hunt.

In the end, an opportunist flicked goal from substitute Richie Murray and an injury time pointed free from the impressive Conor Cooney somehow got the champions out of jail, but even neutrals felt that Portumna were hard done by as referee Alan Kelly controversially penalised Gareth Heagney for overcarrying in the dying embers of a struggle which rarely produced the fire and brimstone exchanges many had anticipated.

From my vantage point on the terrace directly across from the incident, it was impossible to justify Kelly’s harsh call while his failure to award Damien Hayes and Ollie Canning second-half frees when they appeared illegally challenged were also bones of contention, but St. Thomas’ will have their own gripes as well with Anthony Kelly arguably unfairly pulled up for holding onto the ball in the opening half . . . it’s just that Portumna were more sinned against in this regard.

For all that, Kelly awarded the challengers ten scoreable frees, eight of which were converted by Canning, and Portumna can’t ignore the fact either that they failed to close out a game in which they were in control of heading down the home stretch. And substantial credit must also go to St. Thomas’ for battling to a replay when their cause seemed lost. They didn’t panic and though most of the swashbuckling hurling came from their rivals, Eanna Burke and Cooney still managed to pick off some quality points when most needed.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Potential fallow period ahead of Galway as big mileage takes toll

John McIntyre

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Galway's Joe Canning feels the pain of Gearóid Hegarty's late tackle during Sunday's All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Limerick at Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THE end of year report on the Galway hurlers makes for mixed reading. On the surface, reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and only falling to the perceived best team in the land by three points is not a bad season’s work and there is no doubt that the Tribesmen have the capacity to remain a competitive force in the medium term.

But when you drill down a little more, their continued reliance on the vast majority of the All-Ireland winning team of three years ago is concerning as the evidence suggests several of them are now past their peak. Of the Galway players that featured in that long-awaited final victory over Waterford in 2017, including substitute Jason Flynn, 13 of them were also involved against Limerick last Sunday.

When you consider that Joe Canning, Aidan Harte, Johnny Coen and David Burke were already part of the squad when I finished up as Galway manager in 2011, it illustrates just how many miles some of the current panel have on the clock. Many more of them were involved in the All-Ireland final defeats of 2012 and ’15. That’s a lot of hurling.

In contrast, look at the Waterford team which enraptured the hurling world with their astonishing comeback against Kilkenny in last Saturday night’s first All-Ireland semi-final. Only five started against Galway in 2017 – Stephen O’Keeffe, Tadgh De Burca, Austin Gleeson, Jake Dillon and Kevin Moran. Sure, Padraic Mahony would be still involved only for injury, but you get my drift.

Since winning the All-Ireland title three years, about the only new player who has really established himself on the team is Killimordaly’s Brian Concannon and he had to serve a long enough apprenticeship at this level as well. It’s a concern going forward and Shane O’Neill’s big challenge next year will be to try and rejuvenate the squad.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway square up to Limerick a little earlier than we anticipated

John McIntyre

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Galway’s Padraic Mannion breaking away from Tipperary’s Paul Flynn during Saturday's All-Ireland hurling quarter-final at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

After the initial skirmishes in the hurling championship, the widespread perception was that Limerick and Galway were the two best teams out there, leading to an anticipation that next month’s final would end being a repeat pairing of the 2018 decider.

Of course, that assumption was premised on both teams staying winning, but after Galway were caught napping by Kilkenny in the Leinster Final all bets were off. Now as it transpires Galway and Limerick will be meeting after all except it will be earlier than expected – a semi-final instead of a final.

From the outset, Galway have been burdened with the mantle of being the only team which has the capacity to stand up to Limerick physically. It’s a fair assessment when you shift through the imposing figures on the Tribesmen team, notably Daithí Burke, Joseph Cooney, Fintan Burke, Gearóid McInerney, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney.

They have several other six footers plus as well and given the vast experience in their ranks, it’s probably accurate to suggest that if Galway can’t stop Limerick no team can. But how good are Limerick? I for one don’t think they are quite as formidable as some commentators would have us believe.

If we go back to the 2018 final, remember Galway had come into that game possibly fatigued after being taken to replays by both Kilkenny and Clare. They conceded three goals from turnovers; were eight points down after 68 minutes, and were still only beaten by a point as the Shannonsiders staggered over the line.

Furthermore, they were taken out in last year’s semi-final by an average Kilkenny team – granted their average is higher than everybody else’s – which ended up losing the final by 14 points to Tipperary. More recently, they had a lot of troubled passages in their Munster Final triumph over Waterford.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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Connacht Tribune

Missing out on the opportunities that lay ahead will haunt Galway

John McIntyre

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Galway football manager Padraic Joyce digests their Connacht final defeat to Mayo at Pearse Stadium on Sunday with members of his backroom team, Cian Breathnach and Michael Comer. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

NOBODY needed to tell Padraic Joyce the consequences of their narrow defeat to Mayo at a near-deserted Pearse Stadium last Sunday. Losing Connacht’s showpiece match was bad enough, but the real pain was realising that the Tribesmen’s enticing pathway to a first All-Ireland final appearance in 19 years had been completely closed off.

With an All-Ireland semi-final date against either Cork or Tipperary the reward for the winners of the Connacht title, there was a lot more at stake in Salthill than provincial glory. Had Galway got the better of Mayo, they would have fancied their chances against either of those opponents. Suddenly, they would be preparing for an All-Ireland final.

And Galway are one of those teams whose tradition suggests that they would be capable of anything in that environment. Sadly, they are now denied that prospect after a muddling performance against their arch Western foes. Yes, Mayo were the better team and spurned two goal chances, but it was still a match the home team could have won.

Though some of the officiating didn’t do the hosts any favour, it was Galway’s carelessness in possession which must really haunt them. Some of their players were turned over too easily, while their decision making going forward in the opening quarter also left a lot to be desired. Nobody could question the team’s spirit or desire, but they needed to mind ball much better.

Given their injury woes, together with no competitive championship prep for the final and the recent trauma of that league trouncing by Mayo, the hosts’ preparations were far from ideal but Joyce wasn’t inclined to go down the excuses road. He was understandably more frustrated with Galway’s own inadequacies and mistakes, along with the team’s modest scoring haul of 13 points.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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