Sean Walsh takes a look back at the Galway hurler’s National League campaign to date:
With the spectre of Covid 19 throwing a dark cloud over the sporting world now, Sean Walsh takes the opportunity, with no action on the fields and none likey for some time, to have a look at some of the trends, facts and figures of Galway’s maiden National Hurling League voyage under their new management team.
Manager Shane O’Neill and his management team have presided over five National Hurling League games with Galway with qualification for the Quarter Finals being achieved with the dramatic comeback win over Tipperary in the last round. Whether that Quarter Final against Wexford is played remains at the whims of our current Covid-19 pandemic.
After reaching the Walsh Cup Final in January, Galway’s National Hurling League campaign started slowly. A comfortable win over Westmeath was followed by a disappointing defeat to Limerick during which they suffered the double whammy of losing Joe Canning to injury. As it panned out, Joe was to miss the next three games. The news, early in the season, that exiled duo Johnny Glynn and Joseph Cooney would not be part of the 2020 grand plan was a downer too. However, there were encouraging signs in the narrow loss to Waterford in what seems to be the now annual trip to Walsh Park, while back to back home wins over Cork and All Ireland Champions Tipperary engendered a feel good factor before the arrival of the Corona virus.
Thirty two players have seen action in the five National League games played to date. Interestingly only four players, namely Captain Padraig Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, who did well in his run in the No. 3 jersey, Cathal Mannion and vice Captain Conor Whelan , who struck 3 superb goals, have started each of the 5 games to date, although injury and unavailability have restricted other expected starters from seeing more game time.
Darren Morrissey (who is U21 in 2020), Adrian Tuohy, Shane Cooney, who started 4 games at centre back, Jason Flynn and Brian Concannon, who shot 1-8 in his last three games, have each started four of the five games thus far, while goalkeeper Eanna Murphy, Sean Loftus, Aidan Harte and St Thomas duo Fintan Burke and Conor Cooney have started on 3 occasions. The Cooney brothers and Fintan Burke (along with David & Eanna Burke) would have been tied up with club commitments until after the All Ireland Club semi final in January.
Of the 32 players used, seven debutants have seen NHL action for the first time, namely Eanna Murphy (Tommie Larkins), Fintan Burke (St Thomas), TJ Brennan (Clarinbridge) who got 2 starts, Diarmuid Kilcommins (Annaghdown), Evan Niland (Clarinbridge), Conor Walsh (Turloughmore) and St Thomas Darragh Burke (he appeared in 2014 Walsh Cup), while Ja Mannion (Cappataggle) got his first National League start. Youth is getting a fling as Murphy and Niland were U21 in 2019, while Brennan, Walsh and Kilcommins are under 20 this year; with the Annaghdown man actually U20 in 2021 as well. Fintan Burke was Galway U21 captain in 2018.
Sean Linnane has featured in four of the five games, while Liam Mellows talisman Tadhg Haran, Niall Burke, Sean Bleahene, experienced keeper James Skehill, Paul Killeen, Jack Grealish, Johnny Coen and Kevin Cooney (against Tipperary) have also seen action with the impression emerging from both the Walsh Cup (30 players used in 2 games) and the NHL campaigns that both were being used to look at the panel with an eye on the summer. Are you getting any nearer now to having a stab at what Galway’s championship starting 15 could be?
This league campaign to date (similar also to last year’s) has seen Galway run with less of their established players that most of their other counties. For instance we have yet to see Daithi Burke after his exploits with Corofin, while David Burke has eased back with two substitute appearances in the last two games. For the sake of comparison, Tipperary used 12 of their 2019 All Ireland Final starting team during the course of their recent defeat to the Tribesmen, while Galway used 12 of the 20 that saw action against Dublin last June – hence opportunities for others perhaps?
The outstanding Joe Canning remains Galway’s NHL top scorer despite only playing against Westmeath and then 45 minutes of the Limerick game – Joe has scored 0-19. Interestingly, Clarinbridge’s Evan Niland, a Leinster U21 medal winner in 2018, is now the second top scorer on 0-18, after his 0-14 haul against Tipperary – and that after only starting the Tipp game and coming off the bench against both Waterford and Cork. Conor Whelan with 3-6 and Cathal Mannion on 1-12 are tied in third place as a total of 18 players have made a scoring contribution during the five games.
And whisper it…..the goals have started to come too! After only netting once (against Westmeath) in the opening three games, two goals arrived against Cork, with three being scored against Tipperary. In fairness, goal chances were created in all 5 games, but the chances were being converted in the final two games. Conor Whelan has shot 3 of Galway’s 6 goals thus far in the NHL, with Brian Concannon, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion also finding the net.
And in an aspect seldom highlighted Galway, despite the concession of 3-13 in their final game against Tipperary, still had the lowest concession rate of the teams in their group which was 90 points (when you add goals and points together). Indeed of the 10 Division One teams only Clare (78) and Wexford (89) conceded less that the Tribesmen over the 5 games played to date.
All in all, after a low point against Limerick, the graph was rising steadily as Galway progressed through the League. Momentum was being gained, though what the enforced break now will do to that is up for debate. Significantly as the new management began to bed in, a more definitive team structure and plan become discernible from the Waterford game on.
With the impact of the returning Daithi Burke, Joe Canning and David Burke to be factored in, as well as a hoped for contribution from the young kids on the block, then Galway look to be in a decent place. The foundations are solid and it is hard to escape the view that if Galway had got out of Parnell Park last June, then they could have played a big part in that 2019 All Ireland series.
We hope that there will be championship action in 2020, but no one is sure. The lift that Sport gives will be needed. Right now though there is only one game in town and that is to defeat the Covid 19 pandemic. That is the priority and sport pales in importance in light of the current struggles. Keep Safe and let us all try to play our part.
ALLIANZ HURLING LEAGUE: ALLIANZ DIVISION 1
Round 1: Galway 1-24 Westmeath 0-10
Round 2: Limerick 1-19 Galway 0-14
Round 4: Waterford 0-17 Galway 0-16
Round 5: Galway 2-18 Cork 1-16
Round 3: Galway 3-21 Tipperary 3-13 (deferred due to Storm Denis)