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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Burke hoping Galway finally sweep all before them

Galway’s David Burke. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Galway’s David Burke. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Maybe it's best to avoid sweeping statements about sweepers in hurling.

"I don't think a sweeper is going to win you an All-Ireland," predicted Galway skipper David Burke in late July.

You know what happened next ... first Galway advanced to this year's September showpiece. And then so, too, did Derek McGrath's Waterford - the most high-profile embodiment of marrying defensive structure to a sport once revered as the ultimate in free-form, off-the-cuff frenzy.

Even a suspension-enforced change of sweeper against Cork, in the semi-final, couldn't halt their gallop.

All of which left Burke facing an obvious question at Galway's All-Ireland final press day.

"Sure look, it was my opinion because there was no Cork or Waterford player there (at the media event) and they were using my words going into the game," he explains.

"I basically put the pros and cons and, if you read it more, I basically said that if Waterford's big players perform they would probably win the game. And they did.

"I have massive respect for Waterford and they seemed to build this process from when Derek was in school with De La Salle. And they seem to have this system … every game takes on a life of its own.

"You saw how Darragh Fives sat into the role he had to play but had more of an attacking role the last day and it seemed to work. They will sit down and analyse how we play. Bit more a chess game in terms of how it will be played.

Top two

"They are a great team. They were a top three team for the past few years and now they are top two. It will be interesting."

And besides, the Tribesmen are no strangers themselves to playing a sweeper - albeit against teams usually with seven defenders back, leaving Aidan Harte free.

"We have played a sweeper probably more than anyone else," Burke accepts. "In three games we played it. We are well used to it. And we have come across it a lot as well.

"I remember playing Dublin with Anthony Daly. It works for some teams. And Kilkenny played it as well.

"I remember in '15, Richie Hogan was sitting very deep in that game. And I was thinking that everyone says they don't have tactics when they do, like. He was playing practically as a centre-back with their centre-back playing deep. That was them closing out a tight game."

That same mantra - closing out a game - remains the tantalising challenge for Burke and his comrades. They managed it against Tipperary courtesy of Joe Canning ("It was some score," his skipper enthuses) but the history of Galway hurling is littered with the ones that got away.

Like their last All-Ireland two years ago: "We were there or thereabouts and managed to fall away when Kilkenny upped the intensity."

Or last year's semi-final thriller against Tipperary: "Having the performance we did last year and not winning ... you don't really care. You just want to win."

Now, though, opportunity knocks once more. Burke harks back to Galway's Allianz League quarter-final against Waterford, when they trailed by ten points at one stage.

Watershed

The resultant comeback has been flagged by many as a watershed in their season. Even Burke seems to agree.

"Just chatting the cousins," he says. "They wouldn't go to many games but they left that one early because we were so far down. I said to them, 'Don't come to a game for the rest of the year so.' But yeah, it was massive.

"And I remember leaving that day and I think people felt afterwards that there was something good to get onto there. There was massive crowd in Limerick for the semi-final and for the final."

That support has helped propel them to September.

"It is a final with new champions and a massive gap since they won the last time. So the neutral will be thrilled with this spectacle of hurling. I think everyone in the country will want both teams to kind of win," he surmises.

His job is to make sure it's Galway.

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