The manner in which a ruthlessly determined Galway side swatted away the surprisingly tame Wexford challenge last Saturday night in Croke Park has reignited hopes that the Tribesmen have realistic ambitions for a second Liam McCarthy triumph in four years.
A shoulder injury picked up by Fintan Burke in almost the last play of the game could be a significant blow, though, as the St Thomas’ man was a force of nature on his championship debut. Alongside fellow newcomers Shane Cooney and Eanna Murphy, who both had solid outings, Burke was a revelation, none more so than when Galway opened up a six-point interval lead, having been level at the drinks break.
Burke roamed forward from the half-back line to grab a 21st minute point before being directly involved in three of Galway’s next five scores, including winning the free that led to Brian Concannon’s goal on the half hour mark which left Wexford dazed. Concannon was another to shine brightly in the opening period, the Killimordaly man adding three excellent points to his poacher’s finish.
Galway exploited the space left in front of a two-man inside line time and again, with the effervescent Conor Whelan, on his 24th birthday, also proving a thorn in Wexford’s side.
Gearóid McInerney was tasked with tracking Lee Chin at the other end, and although Chin had his moments, McInerney won enough of the battles, while the rest of Galway’s defensive match-ups also proved their worth - Joseph Cooney keeping Conor McDonald scoreless from a nominal number six berth.
When the pass inside was not an option, Galway’s shooting from distance was sensational as Padraic Mannion, who thrived at midfield, Shane Cooney, Sean Loftus, and Cathal Mannion all chipped in with valuable scores. Joe Canning’s industry and endeavour never dropped despite not being on the ball too often outside of his immaculate dead-ball striking. However, he was involved in one of Galway’s better scores when taking a fine catch in the 54th minute from a long Murphy puck-out and popping a pass to Padraic Mannion who burst into open space before making it 1-21 to 0-15.
By then Wexford appeared devoid of any spirit or ideas how to unlock the Galway defence, while Davy Fitzgerald lacked the usual fire and brimstone on the sideline. As was expected, the lack of a thunderous crowd roaring them on appeared to hinder Wexford more than Galway.
With Kilkenny having had to use up one of their nine lives in eventually seeing off Dublin in the other semi-final, it is unsurprising Galway have swiftly been moved into second favourites behind Limerick for All-Ireland glory.
Fintan Burke’s status will be closely monitored, while Daithí Burke’s return from injury would prove another huge boost.
Galway look like a team on a mission, but manager Shane O’Neill will be keen to put a lid on expectations. Galway overpowered and out-hurled a team where following a plan is everything, but they will now face a different sort of challenge in Kilkenny in the Leinster final on November 14.
Brian Cody will likely be keen to settle a score after Galway’s historic win in Nowlan Park last year.
Galway : E Murphy; S Loftus (0-2 ), G McInerney, S Cooney (0-1 ); F Burke (0-1 ), J Cooney, A Harte; P Mannion (0-2 ), J Coen (0-1 ); C Mannion (0-2 ), C Cooney, J Canning (0-9, 7fs, 1 ’65, 1 ‘sl ); J Flynn (0-1 ), C Whelan (0-4 ), B Concannon (1-4 ). Subs: N Burke for Flynn (54m ); S Linnane for C Cooney (63m ); A Tuohy for Harte (67m ); E Niland for Concannon (69m ); TJ Brennan for S Cooney (73m ).
Wexford: M Fanning (0-1f ); S Donohue, Joe O’Connor, L Ryan; K Foley (0-1 ); M O’Hanlon, S Murphy, P Foley (0-2, 1 ’65 ) ); D O’Keeffe, A Nolan (0-1 ); L Óg McGovern, L Chin (0-8, 5fs ), P Morris (0-1 ); R O’Connor (0-3 ), C McDonald. Subs: J O’Connor for McGovern (41m ); D Dunne for O’Keeffe (53m ); D Reck for Nolan (58m ); M Dwyer for Morris (65m ).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork ).