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Saturday 21 October 2017

Walsh: Heft and hunger can tip the scales for Tribe

Galway’s Joe Canning races clear of Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer in their Leinster SHC quarter-final last May
Galway’s Joe Canning races clear of Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer in their Leinster SHC quarter-final last May

The 2017 hurling championship - already brimful of colour and shocks and the odd splash of controversy - won't be recalled for anything Dublin brought to the story.

But the team of now-former boss Ger Cunningham does have one unwanted claim to fame: it suffered at the hands of both Galway and Tipperary.

And on Sunday, the two front-runners in the race for Liam MacCarthy will do semi-final battle in Croke Park. Only one can survive so who will it be - Premier holders or western pretenders?

Liam Walsh is well placed to answer. He was a Dublin selector looking on in frustration as Galway overwhelmed them by 14 points (2-28 to 1-17) and then as Tipp blitzed them by 22 (6-26 to 1-19).

"Both sides have very good quality forwards - probably the two best sets in the country, with a very high point-scoring rate," says Walsh. "That's what Tipp did the last day when they didn't get their goals (against Clare). And Galway have been doing that consistently since the start of the championship.

"Both teams have big, physical men around the middle-third as well; but I'd say Galway more so.

"I just feel Galway are that bit hungrier - maybe because they've been starved of success. But I think Tipp will definitely be up for it on Sunday. They're not All-Ireland champions for nothing."

Unbelievable

Expanding on his themes of "unbelievable" Galway hunger and "huge" physicality from one to 15, Walsh feels this may sway the outcome marginally in their favour.

"For Tipp to be up there, they'll have to match them for work-rate," he says. "And there's no doubt they can do it. We've seen them do it.

"Tipp's work-rate in the All-Ireland final last year against Kilkenny was unbelievable; I mean, we have short memories sometimes.

"In the last five minutes when the game was over, they were still driving at Kilkenny and working their socks off in the back line. So it's in them. It's just a matter of bringing it to the pitch on Sunday."

Next topic: talking tactics.

History suggests to Walsh that both teams will set up conventionally.

"And if they do that I think it will be a high-scoring game," he predicts. "Both teams obviously have forwards who can convert at their ease. They have an array of forwards really, natural scoring forwards.

"I think it will be very interesting to see how both No 6s match up against the No 11s. Who the personnel will be, and how the No 11s play.

"Basically, if (Joe) Canning plays at 11, Ronan Maher is a traditional centre-back who normally sits back in the pocket. And if Canning is allowed to roam out the middle, Tipp will obviously have to have some plan to counter that. Because if he's afforded space he'll do damage.

"And then on the other side, I think 'Bonner' Maher could cause (Gearóid) McInerney trouble if he runs at him … I think those two match-ups could have a big bearing."

Dublin skipper Liam Rushe has already talked about this very conundrum (post-Tullamore): do you hold the fort at No 6 or follow Galway's roaming talisman?

Glue

"This is just a personal opinion," says Walsh, "but I feel the only way to mark the likes of Canning, because he's so good, is just to put someone on him and stick to him like glue from start to finish ... it's the only thing to do, especially when he's in the form he's in."

Last question: where can you trouble Galway and Tipp?

"If you're to find a weakness I'd say it's in both full-back lines," the former Dublin defender suggests. The key for Tipp's forwards is to turn their men and run at the Galway backs, because "when their defence is on the back foot I think they're vulnerable and could be taken for goals," Walsh reckons.

"The Tipp full-back line looked vulnerable on the high ball the last day. But we've short memories again; I mean, (James) Barry is a good player ... he doesn't turn into a bad player overnight, and he normally is quite good on the high ball.

"So I think we could be jumping the gun a bit about the Tipp full-back line."

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