All-Ireland hurling final was an extraordinary occasion
By Ray Silke
Coming out of Dublin last Sunday evening on the motorway was a surreal experience. The motorway at 7.30pm was like some kind of mobile car park for Galway supporters as they trekked West after seeing their team play their part in one of the best hurling finals in years.
The rain lashed on the homeward journey, and with the slow lane and the overtaking lane having morphed into one on the M6, it made for very tiring driving.
Yet nobody complained about anything.
We all knew we had been fortunate to have attended one of the really memorable and special finals.
It was a fantastic and unbelievable occasion from start to finish and everyone will want to be there for "round two" on the last Sunday in September. And in the context too, it was great to see the GAA so practical and proactive in reducing the ticket prices considerably for the replay.
There was huge Galway support in Croke Park last weekend and the atmosphere was electric from the get-go.
The Hogan Stand seemed to shake with the maroon and white eruption when Joe Canning hit his goal, superbly instigated by the graft and vision of James Regan.
Very few will ever forget seeing that three-pointer, and the best and more graphic description I heard of Joe's inspirational effort was in Wynn's Hotel on Sunday evening from former Moycullen hurler Mike Naughton, who observed it first hand from the Davin Stand.
In mid-flow in a conversation about the game, he described the move as follows;
"Joe was like a young bull rhinoceros as he cut through them. The ground shook as he headed for goal, and David Herity did not even see the sliotar going past him."
Canning and his sheer brilliance has that effect on people, and it was his coolness and magnificent self-belief that gave Galway another bite of the cherry in three weeks’ time.
With the game in injury time and having missed an easier free a few minutes earlier, it took some guts (and ability) to slot over the equaliser from a tight angle on the 45 metre line and give the team another 70 minutes to try to win the Liam McCarthy for the first time in too long.
Galway's good start
Galway enjoyed a good start and led by 1-5 to 0-2 after 22 minutes. Further points from Canning, after good work by Niall Burke and a stunning effort from Niall Donoghue, left Cunningham's men 1-7 to 0-3 to the good.
However Kilkenny stormed back into the game and their charge was led by Henry Shefflin. They quickly rattled over 0-3 from frees to give them a lifeline.
Galway were in control and in a good position at the small whistle leading by 1-9 to 0-7, but considering their dominance for most of the first half, they should have been further ahead.
The Galway defence had been superb in the opening 30 minutes with Fergal Moore, Kevin Hynes, Johnny Coen and Tony Óg Regan all doing good things. However the concession of those few frees just before half time were costly.
No doubt Brian Cody told his team a few home truths at the interval and they came out all guns blazing as they nibbled away at Galway's five point-lead.
Brian Hogan - with two awesome fetches - Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell and Tommy Walsh put the clampers on the Galway forwards and, after an early Niall Burke point, Galway failed to score for almost 20 minutes.
Some of Galway's clearances were poor in that period and Kilkenny picked off some handy points to get on a nice run of scores. Only for the superb work rate of Iarla Tannian around the middle in that barren spell, Kilkenny would have moved out of sight.
Standing at 6' 2" and weighting in at 14st and 11lbs, the Ardrahan man is a massive physical presence and his distinctive red helmet seemed to be everywhere last Sunday as he produced a superb individual display.
It looked as if Kilkenny were going to march on and King Henry was going to collect his ninth All-Ireland senior medal.
However, thankfully, the gods wanted to give Galway a break and when the ball broke kindly for Niall Burke off a cross-field ball from Cyril Donnellan, he got the goal that Galway so badly needed.
There was still time for oceans of drama, including James Skehill's superb reflex save from Colin Fennelly, King Henry's decision to take a point from the penalty, Anthony Cunningham's waltz and verbal joust with Brian Cody after the free Davy Glennon won, followed by Canning's brave equaliser.
All in all, it was an outstanding game, a magnificent advertisement for hurling and a brilliant day's entertainment.
A draw was a fair result and most Galway supporters were pleased to have secured a draw considering how the second half had panned out. It is still all to play for and the hope is that the game will bring Galway on a lot.
Nothing is definite about the next day, except that anyone who was there last Sunday will want to be there the next day too. It looks like county hurling board secretary Pat Kearney will have another hectic two weeks and that his dog - Joe - will have to go on his holidays for another few days again.