Everett: Irish leadership paying off late in the season
Joe Everett | Wednesday, October 11, 2017
So often in college sports, veteran leadership and production are the best things a team can possess.
So far this year for No. 7 Notre Dame, it’s been invaluable. The Irish (9-2-1, 3-1-1 ACC) have relied on their seniors not only for leadership, but also for the team’s main sources of offensive production and defensive performance.
Let’s start up front. The senior forward duo of Jon Gallagher and Jeff Farina lead the Irish in nearly every statistical category offensively, and they have been close to unstoppable as of late. In Tuesday’s home win over No. 24 Michigan, Farina tallied a goal and an assist, while Gallagher added two goals and an assist. Need a more dramatic example? Last Friday on the road against then-No. 5 Clemson, with the score tied and the game winding down in the 89th minute, Gallagher placed a perfect free kick right into the box, where Farina smashed home the winning header to shock the Clemson crowd and give the Irish an all-important ACC win in a top-10 matchup.
So yes, they’ve risen to the occasion.
Gallagher leads the Irish with 12 goals and has totaled 27 points so far this season for the Irish. Farina is second on the team in total points with 20, which have come from seven goals and six assists. What makes the duo so dynamic? Perhaps it’s how they complement each other so well. The 5-foot-8-inch, lightning-fast, super-skilled Gallagher presents a much different problem for defenses then the 6-foot-3-inch Farina does with his powerful frame and heading ability, and the two work in tandem beautifully to put defenses in a conundrum as far as which senior to focus in on.
However, it’s not just on offense that the Irish seniors are thriving. In the spine of the pitch, senior midfielder Blake Townes, senior defender Patrick Berneski and graduate student and tri-captain Matt Habrowski have commanded and fortified a Notre Dame defense that has only given up 10 goals in 12 games.
Finally, graduate student Chris Hubbard has been a rock in goal for Notre Dame. The Irish tri-captain has started and completed all 12 games — three of them shutouts — and has recorded 28 saves and a .737 save percentage.
This senior leadership and production has been absolutely crucial to the success of No. 7 Notre Dame thus far, but will become even more so down the home stretch of the regular season as the Irish prepare for the ACC and NCAA championships.
Last season, Notre Dame struggled during the home stretch. After their 2-0 win over Michigan on Oct. 11, 2016, the Irish didn’t record a win over their final five games, losing four straight before managing a 0-0 tie on Senior Night against North Carolina. The stretch certainly robbed the team of much needed momentum entering tournament time, as the Irish only advanced to the quarterfinal of ACCs and the third round of the NCAA tournament — results that this year’s squad will look to eclipse.
From here on out, the schedule isn’t easy. After facing Pittsburgh at home this weekend, the Irish will finish their regular season against four extremely tough opponents: at Akron (unranked but receiving 33 votes), at home against No. 16 Duke, on the road against No. 6 Michigan State and on the road against No. 4 North Carolina.
If Notre Dame wants enough momentum and confidence to advance far in — and even win — the ACC and NCAA championships, they’ll have to beat most of those remaining five opponents. But with a senior class and veteran leadership that rivals any team’s in the country in addition to the lessons learned from last year, the Irish are certainly setting their sights on eclipsing last year’s finishes.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.