Last Sunday was a fantastic day for Galway hurling.Winning a hurling All-Ireland final, senior, u-21, or minor is a wonderful thing for a county, but beating Kilkenny in the final at Croke Park makes it a little sweeter.
The fact that Mattie Murphy and his 2008 team had been pipped at the post by Kilkenny in last year’s final with a late goal would have added some extra motivation to this year’s panel.
Indeed the match programme last Sunday colourfully described last year’s final as “grand larceny” on Kilkenny’s part.
That said, regardless of how much the 2008 defeat hurt, far more important was that the 2009 team had the skill, heart, work-rate, belief, and leadership within the panel to come through when the going got tough.
They proved that conclusively when they held their nerve to keep Kilkenny at bay after the Cats made a superb start to the second half. Kilkenny whittled down Galway’s seven-point interval advantage to only one point at two different junctures. Yet critically they never regained parity and Galway, and in particular Shane Maloney, held their nerve to close out the game.
Galway had outstanding performances all over the field, and everyone who saw action played his part, right from Fergal Flannery in goal up to the three subs who saw action and made an impression on their introductions.
Daithi Burke at full-back gave a masterful performance and was a key man in keeping the Kilkenny full-forward line at bay. His father (Gerry) won an All-Ireland minor football medal as team captain back in 1976, and it was terrific to see the next generation of Galway sportsmen collecting more medals in the maroon and white. Burke was well supported and covered by Loughrea’s Johnny Coen and Conor Burke who did their jobs with aplomb in the corners.
Brian Flaherty put in a powerful second half at centre back. The dual star backed from nothing and his strength and blocking held the middle when it needed to be held, while Joseph Cooney won some vital ball particularly in the last 10 minutes.
Davy Glennon was like a human dynamo at midfield and his two magnificent points in the second half were crucial scores. He hurled some ball and his work-rate and mobility were phenomenal. Both wing-forwards, Donie Fox and Jason Grealish hit two points each and more than held their own, and inside Richie Cummins took his two goals brilliantly and showed the leadership and attitude that made him such an exceptionally good captain.
His second goal just before halftime was a killer blow for Kilkenny and put Galway into a great position going into the break.
In the other corner it was impossible not to be hugely impressed by the composure, self-belief and accuracy of young Shane Maloney. The way he hit the two pressure scores from dead balls was extraordinary. The pressure on him must have been immense, but he drove the ball with such conviction that it wilted Kilkenny hearts and helped the Galway lads to believe that it was really going to be their day. Maloney is a special talent and should be minded.
When Salthill’s Tadhg Haran found the range in injury time and put his side four to the good, there was no way back for Kilkenny and the celebrations could begin in earnest.