An encouraging mix of resilience and application were the dominant features of the Galway hurlers' late surge against Cork, the 2-18 to 1-16 win setting up another knock-out fixture against Tipperary this Sunday (2pm ) in Pearse Stadium to decide who will progress from Group A to the quarter-finals.
On a bitterly cold afternoon in Salthill, there was little by way of fluent hurling from either side when they played with the hefty wind at their backs, with both teams showing their best form while playing against the elements into the Arus Bothar na Trá end.
Cork captain Patrick Horgan won the toss and elected to take on this challenge in the first period, and his deadly accurate free-taking was in start contrast to Galway’s early placed ball efforts, as three shots tailed wide.
With Joe Canning absent again and for the foreseeable future, Galway struggled to work out how best to use the conditions to their favour on a sticky pitch, converting only 50 per cent of their shooting chances in the first half. Manager Shane O’Neill knew the first half had been a struggle but was happy with the second period.
“Our conversion rate wasn’t great in the first half, which is something we need to work on,” O’Neill admitted. “Looking at the two halves, it was probably our use of the ball in the first half, we probably didn’t use it as well as we should have. In the second half I though we used it brilliantly against the wind.”
The first-half highlight for the home side was a well-crafted goal by Jason Flynn, with Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney, and Brian Concannon involved in its creation. That score gave Galway a six-point cushion with time to stretch further clear, but by the short whistle Cork had worryingly halved the gap as Horgan, Shane Kingston, and Conor Lehane all pocketed scores late on.
Galway’s defensive resolve was to the fore in an error-strewn third quarter, with Gearóid McInerney in commanding form alongside Darren Morrisey in the last line of defence. Fintan Burke also caught the eye with his workrate, but Cork eventually took the lead when Timmy O’Mahony burst through for a goal to make it 1-14 to 1-13.
Within five minutes, though, the pendulum had swung firmly back in Galway’s favour, as first Cork were reduced to 14 when Robbie O’Flynn’s high tackle saw him rightly sent off, before Conor Cooney’s deft pass and Concannon’s sharp turn opened up space that the Killimordaly man took full advantage of to rattle the net.
The next 15 minutes were very scrappy as only three points were tallied at either end, with Galway having already lost their captain Padraic Mannion to injury before David Burke saw his first minutes of the intercounty season.
Cork were somehow only one adrift when six minutes of stoppage time began, but Galway were in defiant mood. Substitute Evan Niland drilled over two important testing frees before David Burke left his mark on proceedings with the day’s final score to confirm Cork’s elimination.
“It was an important one to win,” O’Neill stated. “You’re looking at how well the boys are actually digging in in all the games, which they actually are doing, which, coupled with the quality of the hurling in the second half, is pleasing. In February you are looking at trying to create the chances, which we are doing.
“We just need to improve on our conversion rate. To get the two goals was great, but we probably should have scored another two. We’ve a tasty match against Tipp now, the postponed game has fallen nicely now.”
Tipperary also just about made an extra man pay off in a fiery clash with Waterford last weekend by 0-24 to 2-16, after the visitors saw both Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran dismissed before half-time, with Cathal Barrett following suit shortly after.
Liam Sheedy’s side are training hard with a view to retaining their All-Ireland title later in the year, so it will be interesting to see how much emphasis they put on this game. Dillon Quirke caught the eye last Sunday with four points from play, and it will be yet another welcome test for the newcomers to Galway’s defensive unit.
A win for the men in maroon would see them finish third in the group and paired yet again against Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford side, with home venue to be decided by the toss of a coin as both sides have played three home games in the league.
Galway : E Murphy; D Morrissey, G McInerney, S Loftus; P Mannion, S Cooney, F Burke; A Harte (0-1 ), C Mannion (0-5, 4fs ); J Flynn (1-1 ), N Burke (0-2 ), A Tuohey (0-1 ); B Concannon (1-2 ), C Whelan, C Cooney (0-3, 2fs ). Subs: D Burke (0-1 ) for F Burke (39 ), S Linnane for P Mannion (51 ), E Niland (0-2fs ) for F. Burke (57 ), TJ Brennan for Harte (60 ), C Walsh for Concannon (69 ).
Cork: A Nash; N O'Leary, E Cadogan, C Spillane; B Cooper (0-1 ), T O’Mahony (1-1, 0-1’sl ), S O'Leary-Hayes; M Coleman, D Fitzgibbon (0-1 ); R O'Flynn, S Harnedy, A Walsh (0-1 ); C Lehane (0-1 ), S Kingston (0-2 ), P Horgan (0-9fs ). Subs: C Cahalane for Walsh (35 ), J O’Connor for Lehane (71 ).
Referee : F Horgan (Tipperary ).