THERE are a number of ways to look at the outcome of this game – and, indeed, Galway’s below-par performance – but when it really comes down to it, the Tribesmen did exceptionally well not to lose a game that, in years gone by against Kilkenny, they most certainly would have.
For not one among the 40,703 people in attendance – or hundreds of thousands watching on TV – could say that Micheal Donoghue’s men played well or delivered a display befitting their stature as both reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions in a cagey yet uncompromising Leinster senior hurling final at Croke Park on Sunday.
Yes, Galway toiled and laboured honestly. They tackled hard and ferociously. They even conjured up some fine scores. Yet, for all that, there were just too many mistakes, poor touches, questionable decision-making in possession and a general malaise in their play that Galway supporters have not seen in quite a while.
The thing is, it is rare to see a Galway team play badly and still get a result – indeed, how often have they played well and come out the wrong side of it? – and if there is one over-riding positive from last Sunday’s Leinster final draw against Kilkenny it is that. A lesser team would have been beaten by the Cats. The Tribesmen weren’t.
Whatever way Micheal Donoghue and his management team approach the replay at Semple Stadium, Thurles this Sunday though is crucial. They have a great deal to work on but three key areas they will most definitely focus on will be their use and retention of possession; their decision-making, especially at seminal moments; and closing out the game when it is there for them.
From the early stages, however, it was clear this was not a Galway side on song. In the forwards, in particular, they were constantly getting turned over – that was when they could manage to get their hands on ball ahead of an extremely combative Kilkenny defence.
In this regard, full-back Padraig Walsh was heroic while the Cats half-back line of Joey Holden, the impressive Cillian Buckley and Enda Morrissey robbed enough of Galway’s puckouts throughout to put the Westerners’ attack on the backfoot and under pressure.
The Galway forwards were not helped also that the distribution from deep was not clean or concise as it could have been – but, again, when the management and players run through their analysis this week they will be alarmed with both the nature of the turnovers against them and the high volume of unforced errors they committed.
That should be the starting point for a discussion that should also throw the microscope on a number of players in terms of their decision-making and, again, the forwards will be questioned in this respect.
Both Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion scoffed goal chances midway through the first half with ambitious first time pulls when they might have taken the ball in hand and executed the shot from there. Maybe they felt the time and opportunity wasn’t there to do so but, either way, both should have done better.
Whelan, who always looks a threat in fairness, should also have laid off left or right when Galway had conjured up a goal chance on 45 minutes while, six minutes later, you then had Joe Canning endeavouring to prise open the Kilkenny defence – only for his pass to be intercepted – when, you could argue, that it may have been more prudent to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.