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Monday 11 December 2017

Hungry Galway look poised to end Premier reign

All-Ireland SHC S-Final Galway v Tipperary (Tomorrow, Live RTÉ 2, 4.0)

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

All it took was one hard-to-fathom league final to colour all perceptions about the race for Liam MacCarthy.

Beforehand, all the talk was of Tipperary's greatness in the making. And their ambition - to break a nine-year NHL title duck before setting sights on that 52-year back-to-back All-Ireland famine.

And after the Gaelic Grounds? Nothing but shellshocked questions. How could it happen? Not so much lose to Galway but lose by 16 points?

A few weeks later they lost again - to Cork - and the questions multiplied.

That left Galway in pole position with the bookmakers, only partially by default, and thus far Micheál Donoghue's men haven't disappointed.

Dublin and Offaly were dispatched with minimal fuss. Wexford may have asked a few awkward questions but couldn't sustain it, cracking in the face of Galway's ball-winning prowess and point-scoring acumen.

You can read it in the stats. Galway haven't found the net in two games (a mild concern) but have compensated by nailing points from all angles. Their summer average is 1-29.

With an average of 2-28, Tipp are every bit as prolific but their route to the semi-final has meandered to a far greater degree. That may be an obvious consequence of falling relatively flat (against Cork in May) precipitating a scenic detour.

But even their most recent outing showed up the best and the worst of our reigning champions.

John and Noel McGrath, Séamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer were all in the zone against Clare. When they all click, as they did in that quarter-final, Tipp elevate forward play to a level that few if anyone (perhaps not even Galway) can match.

And yet they had to beat the Banner three times over. Why? Primarily because of defensive doubts, especially in a full-back line clearly missing the still-exiled Cathal Barrett.

Their vulnerability to aerial attack was key to Aaron Cunningham's first half brace of goals while James Barry, an All Star full-back last year, didn't appear remotely happy in the corner.

All of which means that the Maher brothers, Pádraic and Ronan, may carry an even heavier burden of responsibility than normal. If they can dominate their half-back patch, Tipp will be on the front foot. Just as crucially, this would limit the scope for the two Connors - Cooney and Whelan - to cut loose closer to goal.

Overall, though, our hunch is that the odds favour Galway, albeit marginally.

They should be hungry as hell; their work ethic suggests as much. Their height and physicality will test even a team as powerful as Tipp's. On current form, their defence looks slightly the more watertight of the two.

And up front, different forwards are taking it in turns to twist the knife. They can hurt you from anywhere. So much so that we've reached the end of a preview without even name-checking Joe Canning.

Changed times ...

Odds: Galway 4/5 Draw 9/1 Tipp 13/10

Verdict: Galway

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