‘I’d be always telling Johnny Coen, ‘If we win midfield we’ve a great chance of winning the game”

WHEN THE BATTLE lines are drawn on Sunday afternoon, one key area of combat will be the middle third.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the maroon corner are David Burke and Johnny Coen. Micheal Donoghue stumbled across the midfield partnership halfway through his first campaign in charge back in 2016 and they’ve been mainstays ever since.

Galway’s second-half collapse against Kilkenny in the Leinster final that summer, where they lost by seven points after leading by three at the interval, signalled the end of the Burke-Davy Glennon combination at 8 and 9.

By the time the Tribe faced Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final three weeks later, Coen was repositioned from corner-back to centre-field alongside Burke. It wasn’t unfamiliar territory – the pair were a midfield partnership with Galway U21s in 2011.

Coen retained his place alongside Burke the one-point semi-final defeat to Tipperary – Galway’s last defeat in championship hurling. They’ve been mainstays of the Tribe midfield ever since.

Coen’s defensive nose means he’ll typically pick up the danger man in midfield, like he did by tracking Tony Kelly against the Banner. Coen will likely be handed man-marking duties on Cian Lynch, giving Burke the freedom to drive forward and add to Galway’s scoring threat.

Off the field, Coen and Burke are also close. They went to secondary school together in Loughrea and both studied in UL for four years. After finishing college, Coen (a metalwork teacher) and Burke (a woodwork teacher) returned to St Brigid’s in Loughrea to take up teaching positions.

Johnny Coen in action against Clare

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Their classrooms are even located across the hall from one another. The pair are currently enjoying their summer holidays, but during the school term they sometimes discuss gameplans or upcoming opponents.

“I’d be always telling Johnny in school, ‘If we win midfield at all we’ve a great chance of winning the game,’” says Burke.

“And if you’re getting on a lot of ball there, you’re setting up a lot of attacks as opposed to them. So it’s simple when you look at it like that.”

They’ll face their most formidable test yet against Limerick’s duo of Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan in the Croke Park trenches.

“Cian Lynch is a big playmaker for them and any good plays they’ve had all year, he’s been in the centre of it. And Darragh Donovan has been working really hard.

“They’ve been playing pretty well and a lot of the comeback they got the last day was down to them winning a lot of dirty ball near the end.

“They’re good hurlers and I think the way they’re playing, they’re playing a deep half-forward line, the half-back line sitting, it’s suiting the two lads they have there and Cian Lynch can attack from deep positions. It’s something that we’ll have to look at…”

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Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Galway arrived into the final 12 months ago seeking a first Liam MacCarthy crown in 29 years and looking to end a run of six defeats at the All-Ireland final stage. Limerick have lost the last five deciders they’ve been to and are 45 years without the big prize.

“It’s such a long time, it’s hard to know what’s the best way to (approach) it,” says Burke.

“The worst thing was just dealing with people you’d meet. Talking to them at work, or your own family, and the expectation that was probably on them and being so excited and hoping that it was done. You kind of have to deal with it in a certain way, and really just focus on the game in hand.

“I know it’s a cliché but that is the only way around it, and the rest is a sideshow for them. Obviously afterwards you enjoy it with everyone, but beforehand you have to have just one mind with the rest of the team that ‘Look, this is my job, I’ve to go out and execute it and get it done.’”

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It’s been suggested in some quarters that Galway are under less pressure than their opponents, given they’ve already ended the long wait for All-Ireland success.

“There’s always pressure definitely on every game,” argues Burke. “And we’re the worst, ourselves, for putting pressure on ourselves going into any game.

“Players just want to get better, naturally, but look Galway people are still hungry for more success and this team is hungry for more as well. Look, that’s the way we’ll be approaching it, another game, and another game that we really want to win.”

The appointment of James Owens as the final referee received plenty of attention in the wake of James McGrath’s subsequent retirement from inter-county duty, but how will Owens ref the game?

“It’s hard to know,” says Burke. “If you compare the game we had the last day and the first day (against Clare) they were two completely different games.

“Probably defences were a lot more on top the last day, 2-13 to 1-17 compared to the high-scoring first game. Every game is different with refereeing as well.

“Look, at the high level, there’s pressure on everyone to perform – especially referees, they’re going to be looked at and there’s pressure on them as well. It’s a big day and we’ll focus on our own job and let James and the linesmen focus on theirs as well.”

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