So, we’ve nearly reached the first Sunday in September, the day hurling lovers around the globe dream of.
This year’s novel pairing of Galway and Waterford will see one county end decades of hurt by lifting Liam MacCarthy aloft. It’s been 29 years since the famous cup crossed the Shannon into Galway, while The Déise have waited over half a century (58 years) to see him again.
One man who is no stranger to winning hurling’s top honour is legendary Tipperary forward Eoin Kelly and we sat down with him to bash out all the issues ahead of Sunday’s epic All-Ireland final encounter.
Let’s throw the ball in on our conversation:
Paddy Power: Should Waterford change anything from the Cork game?
Eoin Kelly: If it’s not broken, why fix it. There’s no reason for Waterford to change their approach from the Cork game for Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
They are up against a potent Galway attack, who rack up big scores. So, it’s a day to nullify that threat as much as possible. It seems to be a plan of Derek McGrath’s to have his strongest team on the field in order to see out the last 15 minutes or so.
If I was the Waterford manager, I’d be going with the tried and tested sweeper system this weekend.
He’s also got Tadhg de Búrca back to slot into that role and McGrath will be delighted to have him.
They need to try and spread nervousness within the Galway forwards line early on by not letting them get their hands on the ball.
PP: How big of a loss is Conor Gleeson for Waterford?
EK: It will be interesting to see how Waterford deal with the loss of Conor Gleeson, because he would have picked up Joe Canning. Derek McGrath will probably feel Conor’s absence, he’s a huge loss.
Donal O’Grady was only recently talking about man-markers in the GAA world and it reminded me of Cork’s Brian Murphy: he had pace, played right on the edge and his concentration levels were through the roof. Conor is in that mould and he ticked all those boxes with the job he did on Lehane against Cork in the semi-final.
You can expect McGrath to use his ban as motivation though, in the same way he used de Búrca’s the last day. Derek likes to find something different every time to light a fire under his team and Gleeson’s absence will be top of the pile for him this Sunday.
PP: Would he have shackled Joe Canning?
EK: With Joe Canning, you need a man-marker on him for every second of the game and Gleeson would have done that. Tipperary lost the Portumna man for the last 10 minutes in their semi and look what happened.
You saw it as clear as day in the last 40 seconds: Canning takes a free 100 yards from goal and no one picks him up.
With 10 seconds left on the watch he’s got the winner going over the bar.
Joe needs to be marked at all times and especially in the final minutes of a game. If the contest is tight on Sunday, that’s when Waterford really need lads focused and zoned in on him.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 29, 2017
PP: Who should mark Canning now?
EK: I’d say Darragh Fives is the man for the job. If Canning plays in the half forward line, I’d definitely have Fives pick him up.
If Joe moves inside to his traditional full forward slot, then Barry Coughlan is the obvious candidate. I’m sure Canning will drift wide on Sunday to ask a few questions of Waterford’s sweeper system, so it’s going to be tactical.
PP: What role do experienced players like Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran play for Waterford this week?
EK: ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran will have been a phenomenal help to Waterford since the semi-final given their level of experience and even this week they’ll have been vital. On Sunday, the pair will just worry about their own jobs.
The Brick will be there to tie down the likes of Pádraic Mannion or Aidan Harte, so he’ll be given a specific job and Walsh will thrive on that. I know he’s scored a goal or two recently, but if the he’s asked to nullify a Galway defender he’ll do just that.
Meanwhile, Moran is coming into some very good form and he’s key to Waterford’s sweeper system. He could have a job done on him though as Micheál Donoghue knows Moran inside-out from his time with Tipperary.
But Walsh’s and Moran’s influence will have been crucial in the build because they’ve been there before in 2008 and they would have been speaking a lot over the last few weeks I’d imagine.
PP: Should Derek McGrath start Maurice Shanahan?
EK: I don’t believe Maurice Shanahan should be in the starting XV for the simple reason that Derek always finishes with his best team. They could even go into the last quarter with a better side than Galway because Waterford’s bench is just that bit stronger.
Of course, everyone wants to start an All-Ireland final and be in the parade, but McGrath will have all these things ironed out and Maurice is the best impact player in the country.
So, he’s nearly decided his own fate for Sunday, as he makes such a difference when he’s sprung from the bench.
He’ll have a big say yet on how it all pans out.
PP: Did Galway’s 10-point come back in the National League against The Déise springboard their season?
EK: People believe Waterford took their foot off the gas that day and were putting all their eggs in the Munster Championship basket, which proved to be a flop. However, I reckon the comeback for Galway was huge and it was something Micheál Donoghue fed off as well.
After the Wexford loss, he met his leadership group to dissect that and see how they’d move forward. That’s something he learned from his time with Eamon O’Shea in Tipp.
That seemed to be the catalyst for their season to date, but I believe that Waterford recovery just added fuel to the fire. They went on to beat Tipperary by 16 points in the League final and that instilled in them how good they really are.
That comeback spirit had been missing for years in Galway; every manager wants little nuggets and the win over Waterford help them no end. There’s definitely a different mentality about The Tribesmen this season.
PP: Does Austin Gleeson need to have the game of his life for Waterford to win the All-Ireland?
EK: Austin needs to play very, very well if Waterford are to claim their first title since 1959, but he’s capable of that. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from him during the year, though maybe not enough throughout the course of a full game.
However, what better day for him to produce a full 70-minute showing than Sunday. If he does that, it’ll be a massive plus for Waterford.
He plays on the edge, can take it in the air and he can get it anyway he wants. I think he’ll really relish the occasion. His goal against Cork was unbelievable and he’ll have gained great confidence from that.
I’m expecting big things from him in the final.
PP: Can Waterford live with Galway’s physicality?
EK: I believe The Déise can deal with it, if you got enough bodies around it might not even come down to physicality. A flick of the hurl or a scoop away can be just as important.
Waterford can match them in that department if needs be though, mainly due to the fact they get players in an around the ball. We’ll know after five or 10 minutes how McGrath’s men will do for the day.
PP: Are Galway capable of winning the All-Ireland without scoring a goal?
EK: Of all the teams out there, Galway probably can win Liam MacCarthy without scoring a goal. They aren’t going to just let Waterford in for one either.
They’re not going to be caught with just two or three at the back and leave the likes of Jamie Barron flood through. Goals are going to be at a premium on Sunday and if either team gets one or two they will be the ones that get over the line.
If Waterford stick with the sweeper system, Galway are the ones that carry more of a goal threat. It’s only in the last ten minutes The Déise seem to open out and go for the green flag in their games.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 31, 2017
PP: Will Galway be bothered by the sweeper?
EK: I don’t believe care will care one bit about Waterford’s sweeper. Unlike Cork, Galway have big men. The Tribesmen can win that ball in the air, Canning could move in if needs be and Conor Cooney is there already and they even have Johnny Glynn to spring from the subs.
In tight games, Galway’s size and aerial ability is probably better than Waterford’s, but the Déise would be lethal if the game opens up.
It’s a hard game to call.
PP: If you could only choose one of Austin Gleeson or Joe Canning to build a team around, who would you pick?
EK: If I was picking for today, it would have to be Austin Gleeson. He’s the younger man and if you were building a team from scratch – he can play 6, 8, 9 and 11.
He just gives you more options than Joe Canning.
PP: Hurler of the Year?
EK: Jamie Barron, I called him at 25/1 after the Kilkenny game. If Waterford win and he gets a few points or his now customary goal he’s a banker at 3/1. He’s definitely The Déise’s Hurler of the Year, that’s for sure.
If Galway take it and Conor Whelan puts in a performance again, he’s been their most consistent performer. Unless Canning or Gleeson do something extra ordinary than we are looking at those two for the top gong.
PP: Call it?
EK: I was Galway after the Tipp match and all the way to last week I was Galway, Galway, Galway. There’s been no word from them and no hype at all, but there’s been very little from the Waterford camp as well.
It’s been low key on both sides, but I’m giving Waterford a serious chance now.
I’m going to stick my neck on the line and something’s telling me The Déise are going to do it.
I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it. Maybe I’m just looking forward to John Mullane riding a horse down the Waterford Quays naked if they win. I just believe they’ll have their day…