Tipperary boss Michael Ryan has spoken openly and frankly this week about the problems his full-back line have faced to date.
He would have been more disappointed than anyone about the three goals his side conceded against Clare last time out and I believe the reason he chose to discuss it was to lay down a challenge to whoever starts there against Galway.
They’ve been written off and, by acknowledging that, Ryan is using it as motivation for the lads going in there. With the exception of Donagh Maher at corner back, all other positions from 1-5 seem to be up for grabs on Sunday.
It’s possible that the manager could revert to James Barry at full back, where he appears to be at his most comfortable and where he’s performed well the over the past few seasons. That move in itself might help the confidence of the full-back line as a whole.
This Galway side pulled Tipp apart the last time they met, so now is the time for the backs to deliver. They need to galvanise themselves as a unit on Sunday and prove the doubters wrong.
Tipperary don’t need a sweeper and they wouldn’t think of using one anyway. They trust their attack enough to do damage and they’ve got some serious forwards. Why would you go with five forwards, when the Premier County have six at their disposal who can go at you and keep the scoreboard ticking?
Tactically, I’d like to see John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer or John McGrath out on Gearoid McInerney at centre forward, even if just to ask some different questions of the Tribesmen.
McInerney likes being on a robust player and he’s well suited to marking Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher.
Along with Bubbles and McGrath, his partners in crime, Seamus Callanan is coming into form, so it’s going to be a huge test for Daithi Burke and his defence on Sunday.
The Cathal Barrett question
Cathal Barrett is definitely one of the best corner backs in Ireland and I’d love to see him playing on Sunday. So would everyone in Tipperary.
However, Michael Ryan has put that to bed already this week.
Whichever way the result goes, it shouldn’t be a distraction or an excuse for the panel or the management team.
Ryan has made a few hard calls this year and he’s sticking to his guns on it.
Open season for forwards in Croker
Both sides will look to lock this game down as much as possible, but that’s easier said than done because there are six forwards on each end of the field whose touch, pace, power and teamwork is exceptional.
We’ve got the two best forward lines in the country going toe-to-toe, that’s why everyone’s looking forward to this match-up. Hopefully, it will be high scoring with just a puck of a ball in it.
The five week lay-off afforded to provincial winners is new to a lot of these Galway players. There’s a lot of hype in the county over it. However, Micheál Donoghue knows the Tipperary set-up and players inside-out, so the first five or ten minutes will be interesting to see from Galway’s point of view.
These two sides bring the best out of each in the physicality stakes, so it should make for a fascinating watch. A lot has been made of Galway’s muscle, but Tipperary are certainly capable of matching that.
Tipperary were beaten in the half-back line in the League final by Joe Canning pulling Ronan Maher out of centre back. You could see Ronan and his brother Pádraic talking to each other as if they were trying to figure out who was marking who.
You’d hope they’d have learned from that because Canning created space and set up scores for the Galway lads inside to do damage.
I’m sure there’s one or two of that Galway defence that Tipperary will look to expose too. The contest is evenly matched from midfield up, but at the back there are question marks for both outfits.
McInerney could be targeted and John Hanbury in the corner may also be asked a few tactical questions by John McGrath or Seamus Callanan, if he moves over there.
Keys to unlocking a final challenge
The key match-up on Sunday should be Daithi Burke on Seamus Callanan, but if I was to pick another man to watch it would be Cathal Mannion, who was injured the last day. He has the potential to score four or five points from play every day he goes out.
We all know the threat Joe Canning brings, but you’d nearly forget how good Mannion is.
It’s a crucial decision for Michael Ryan to choose a Tipperary defender to mark him.
There was only a point between them in the last two semis and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it ends up a draw this time around. But the momentum is with Tipp coming into this game after easy wins over Westmeath, Dublin and that tough outing with Clare.
It really should be a ding-dong battle, but if I was made put my money on a team I’d be going with Tipperary.