Three things to watch in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final
Is this year too soon for Cork, will the long break affect Galway and will a red rag bring out the best of a bullish Joe Canning once again?
Will the Rebels bring out the best in Joe Canning yet again?
Many pundits will argue that Joe Canning has flattered to deceive – by his incredibly high standards – since bursting on to the scene four years ago, but he certainly likes playing against Cork.
Of course, Joe is partly to blame for setting such high standards and it was against the Rebels in the 2008 Championship that hurling folk really saw what a prodigy the game had on its hands. In that encounter, which Galway ultimately lost, Canning struck a scarcely credible 2-12 out of Galway’s total of 2-15 in Semple Stadium (all of Canning’s scores are in the video below and although it’s eight minutes long, it’s worth it), exploits which eventually earned him an All-Star and the Young Hurler of the Year award.
In last year’s championship, Galway came out on the right side of their meeting with Cork and Canning marked the occasion with ten points, although the highlight of his performance and the game as a whole was the ingenious reverse handpass he gave to David Burke for a Galway point in the second half.
Jimmy Barry Murphy will no doubt have a plan to curb Canning’s influence on Sunday, but then again, everyone has these days and the Galway attack are seemingly less reliant on him now than at any stage of his fledgling career to date. If Galway can get another star performance from their star man, however, a place in the final should be theirs.
How will the long break affect Galway?
Last weekend, for the second year in succession, the four provincial winners came out on top at the quarter-final stage of the football championship, seemingly blowing out of the water the theory that momentum through the qualifiers is more beneficial than the rest granted after a provincial final win.
Whether that theory will apply in the last four of the hurling championship, however, remains to be seen. By the time they take to the field in Croker on Sunday, it will have been over a month since Galway’s incredible Leinster Final win over Kilkenny, while in the same timeframe, Cork have had three games under their belt. In two of those games, their forwards would have boosted their confidence with totals of 1-26 and 3-24 respectively, while last time out against Waterford, they showed serious guts and character to outscore the Déise by six points in the final five minutes and close the deal.
So it’s a battle hardened Cork against a fresh Galway. Which approach works best will be revealed on Sunday evening.
Is it Cork’s time now, or will they have to be a little more patient?
Downplaying your team’s chances before GAA matches has become something of a national pastime in recent years, with opposition bainisteoirs often trying to outdo each other in the compliment stakes (Your team is better than mine... no honestly we’re not a patch on you guys), but rarely has a team made such an effort to come under the radar as Cork this weekend.
JBM has already described his team as “rank outsiders” for Liam McCarthy, while Joe Deane is one of a few past players who have stressed that this is a team for the future and this year may have come too soon for the current crop.
The bookies make Cork 15/8 outsiders for Sunday and while the likes of O’Farrell, Sweetnam, Lehane and Jamie Coughlan might be short on years, they will have learnt a hell of a lot so far this year, realising, for example, how ruthless Kilkenny can be when in the mood and how Tipp’s extra cuteness won the day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Besides, Kenny, Ó hAilpín, McCarthy and Horgan provide plenty of experience and although Sunday might prove that they’re not quite there yet, don’t look too shocked if they once again surprise a few people and cause an upset.