The Galway hurlers had hoped to make some hurling history last Sunday afternoon at Croke Park. Only two years in the Leinster championship and already in a final. It was an opportunity to make a statement.
Unfortunately that did not happen. It never even looked close to happening. Instead all that is left from Sunday is a host of questions and a feeling that perhaps this team has been over-rated by some supporters and does not have what it takes to defeat the big teams like Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Waterford in championship hurling.
We have to be realistic. Kilkenny won this game in a canter, shooting 17 wides as they collected yet another provincial title with the minimum of fuss and without having to hit any really high notes.
Galway were very disappointing on the day. The players and management will know they did not perform to anything like the standard required to win major silverware and the midfield and half-forward line did not function at the level required to beat the top teams.
Of course the suspended David Burke was a major loss, but, that said, both the midfielders selected were replaced. Adrian Cullinane went after only 25 minutes, and a player who had been in sparkling form coming into the tie, Ger Farragher, was subbed out with almost 20 minutes left. They could not compete with Michael Rice and much of Kilkenny’s dominance came from their superiority in the midfield sector.
The Galway management team eventually took the decision to take Damien Hayes, who had been troubling Noel Hickey in the full-forward line, out to the engine room to try to garner some much-needed possession. However, by doing that, they were cutting off their threat in the scoring zone and leaving Joe Canning two on one in the inside line.
Team manager John McIntyre admitted as much during the week.
"We suffered badly in the third quarter. We had Joe Canning, Damien Hayes and Iarla Tannian in the full-forward line but there was very little ball going into them. We brought Damien out the field and I appreciate more than anyone that in doing so we were robbing Peter to pay Paul, but it was forced on us.”
On the plus side, the spine of Galway’s defence, Tony Óg Regan and Shane Kavanagh, hurled well and kept going right to the bitter end, even when facing overwhelming odds. Damien Hayes gave his all for the cause, but too many players did not compete or hurl to the required level if this Galway team is to make any real impression in the All-Ireland series.
Guys like Ger Farragher, David Collins, Iarla Tannian and Joe Canning were subdued and never got into top gear.
Off course the same can be said of Kilkenny. They were not at their best and a host of their bigger names did not perform. Noel Hickey was hesitant early on, and three of their top forwards – Eddie Brennan, Eoin Larkin and Martin Comerford – did not do any real damage. Despite playing poorly, they still worked like demons and put in the tackles and made the selfless runs.
Kilkenny boasts a superb panel and when you can call on replacements like John Tennyson, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Hogan and John Mulhall, you appreciate the difficulties in trying to beat them.
As usual and to his credit, John McIntyre was not making any excuses after the defeat this week and he pointed out that the panel has a choice to make over the coming few weeks.
"We have a choice of two roads – be driven by what happened last Sunday, or be demoralised. Looking at the body language of the players after the game, the signs were positive. There were no recriminations, no blame game.
“It’s going to take a while for the wounds to heal, but we have to hurl our way back from this. We have work to do, areas of the field we have to target if we’re to get to the level we aspire to.
“There was a level of consistency there earlier in the season, but our championship performances have dipped in comparison to how we were playing. We felt we had the players primed physically and mentally for the challenge last Sunday, but of course it’s a very different thing when you’re actually out there on the field against what is probably the greatest ever hurling team."
He added: "The challenge now for us, as players and management, is to learn the lessons from last Sunday and make sure we apply them in the next match and do ourselves justice again."