Hurling Final Preview – Mannion battle key to Man of Match award

Lonesharkoy previews the All Ireland Hurling Final and the bet he likes is Padraig Mannion to be the RTE Man of the Match.

Early in this season’s hurling championship, when the cracks started to appear in the Kilkenny and Tipperary sides, we got the first airing of the old adage about Galway – “how will they do when the pressure really comes on?”

It was a fair question, though it was equally fair to wonder if the Tribesmen might actually win the All Ireland without ever having to face a really tough test along the way. They looked so far superior to everyone else that it was entirely plausible to imagine them winning every game by a comfortable margin.

As it happened, Tipperary got their act together and really pushed Galway to the wire in what was a fascinating, utterly absorbing semi-final, the latest chapter in what is turning out to be a very nice rivalry between these Shannonside rivals. In doing so, one could argue that they put to bed the last niggling concerns about this Galway team.

In almost every facet of play, Galway look well equipped. Waterford might have a slight edge at midfield, and they will certainly relish the chance to try and discommode the defensive axis of Daithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney by moving them about, but that’s not the same as saying that Galway have any weakness in either of those two areas. The Tribesmen are physical and strong in defence, their midfield hurls a lot of ball, albeit in a more understated way than their counterparts here, while there is absolutely no doubt that every single one of their forwards are well capable of winning their own ball and converting possession into scores.

Galway can afford to play their own game here, and since that’s a much more orthodox style (albeit with the inside forwards playing in very central positions to open up space in the corners) Waterford shouldn’t get as many of the easy, short puckout openings as they tend to pick up against other counties.

That puts the pressure on Stephen O’Keeffe to go long relatively frequently, and if he does, he’ll have to attack one of the Galway flanks, since high ball down the middle towards the Austin Gleeson & Gearóid McInerney pairing would be manna from heaven for the big Galway defender. Instead look for him to go wide, which will put the spotlight on Aidan Harte and Padraig Mannion.

And there lies the key to our main bet for this game: Padraig Mannion at 6/1 to be nominated for the RTE Man of the Match award, on offer with Paddy Power.

Over the past two seasons, the big Ahascragh-Fohenagh man has been superb for his county, and he’s still very much in the running for Player of the Year. On a day like this, he could easily get overshadowed by someone like Joe Canning, who remains a likely contender to play the part of match-winning hero at the death, but he’s still positioned in a key role, all the more if he ends up competing with Michael “Brick” Walsh for ball – as could easily happen.

Waterford have designated the Brick as a key outlet in their attack – understandably given Kevin Moran’s role at midfield and the lack of any other big physical presence up there – and logic would suggest that getting the better of Mannion in an individual battle would be a huge scalp for Waterford. And it would – but that doesn’t make it likely.

For a bet like this, you want your selected player to be involved in a key battle. Adrian Tuohy could hurl a great game on Sunday but he’ll do well to get noticed, he won’t have the same responsibility to curb one of Waterford’s leaders, and may not even have a man to mark. Mannion will certainly have plenty to do here, but Galway will be happy that the pressure is on the right set of shoulders.