The task facing Galway hurlers when they take on Limerick in next Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park is a major one, but one which the Tribesmen are looking forward to, manager Shane O’Neill said this afternoon after their nail biting 3-23 to 2-24 victory over Tipperary.
The Limerickman said that despite the late drama which saw Aidan Harte emerge as the unexpected match winner with a goal from distance, that he had never panicked, even as the game seemed to be edging away from them.
“We didn’t panic at any stage. There was a strong enough breeze out there in the middle of the pitch and we knew that if we kept the scoreboard ticking over, we’d be there or thereabouts.
“It was an epic encounter, and nothing less is expected when Galway and Tipp play. You can see in the last few championship matches, there was only a point in it, and today, there was just a puck of the ball between them., so I am delighted to have a crack at Limerick next week as well.”
“We were never worried, We felt at halftime that we were not as composed as we should have been in the first half. So we were a lot more composed on the ball in the second half.”
On Aidan Harte’s crucial goal, he said that it was from an unlikely source, but from a player who had the bravado to try his shot, considering he had missed a few not long beforehand.
“Yeah, it was a fantastic finish. He had three shots I think that he didn’t convert, but he has played in the midfield and in the half forwards for Galway underage.
“He just happened to find himself in that position and he finished well, but apart from that, he had a particular job to do for Galway today and he did that very well.”
He said that the sending off, while important, did not impact the game as modern tactics tend to nullify the benefit of the extra man.
“Sometimes these events have major effect on games, but then sometimes, the benefit can go the other way. In the modern game with all the movement of backs and forwards, so sometimes that extra man can be nullified,” he said.
When asked about the return from the puckouts, he said haven’t seen the stats at that stage.
“In the first half though, I did think we were in trouble in the air actually, but in the second half it worked a bit better.
He said the preparation for next week is more psychological than physical.
“It’s about mental recovery more than anything. It will be the third week on the trot which is tough, but the boys will only be raring to go again.
“The scale of the challenge next week is massive. They are coming with a week more first of all, so they have that advantage. Obviously, they have been the best team in the country over the last three years. They are a very difficult side to play against. They play an unbelievable style of hurling, but the boys are looking forward to it.”
He said the decision to bring off Johnny Coen and David Burke at halftime was fatigue-related
“The boys had put in a fair auld shift. David had just come back. Johnny had a particular job to do and we just felt that we needed to bring a bit of impetus there when we made the two substitutions. Particularly when we were playing the second week on the trot.
It was Aidan Harte’s intervention in the 66th minute that proved the key score.
Substitutes Jason Flynn and Adrian Tuohy combined well well to move the ball across the field to the defender who had found himself in loads of space.
All watching expected him to try for a point, but instead he let fly and bounced a fiercely struck low shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Tipperary were left reeling, having had been reduced to 14 men by the dismissal of defender Cathal Barrett for a second yellow card, but they did not collapse.
In the end it was only when Daithi Burke clasped a high ball in the Galway square with seconds left that the Tribesmen could finally be confident of victory.
These two teams have a habit of going toe to toe and slugging it out whenever they meet, and it was Tipperary who landed the first haymaker of the match when Seamus Callanan goaled on four minutes.
Jason Forde hit a high ball across the 21 yard line under pressure and as Callanan collected it, Daithí Burke slipped and allowed the marksman through..
He drove towards goal and finished with typical style
Noel McGrath pointed a minute later and Tipperary were 1-2 to 0-2 to the good and entitled to be satisfied with how they started the game.
From there, though, Galway started to really get to grips with the contest, particularly around the middle third of the field, which was due in no small part to their ability to retain possession from puck-outs better than Tipperary could.
They were level by the 11th minute when Man of the Match Cathal Mannion turned Niall O’Meara and blasted to the net from a tight angle.
A second Galway goal came 10 minutes later when Conor Whelan danced past Ronan Maher and put through Brian Concannon who finished emphatically to push Galway 2-5 to 1-5 ahead.
But just when it looked like Galway were getting a grip on things, Tipperary produced their best 15 minutes of the championship coming up to half-time as they outscored Galway by 1-8 to 0-3.
Noel McGrath had really thundered into the match by now and would finish with four first half points to his name, while moving Brendan Maher into a sweeping role improved their defensive shape.
Alan Flynn and Michael Breen also took control of the midfield battle, hitting three points between them, and suddenly Tipperary were flying.
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher gave them a boost with their second goal of the match on 32 minutes.
Brendan Maher picked out Jake Morris with a nice angled delivery and his shot was parried by Éanna Murphy into the path of the onrushing Bonner.
The Lorrha man fluffed his initial attempt, but was fortunate to have a second bite of the cherry when Shane Cooney lost his footing and this time he made no mistake.
Further points from Breen and O’Meara meant the defending All-Ireland champions were in a decent position by half-time, leading by 2-13 to 2-9.
They stretched that advanced to six points early in the second-half, but Galway hung in there thanks to the accurate free-taking of Joe Canning and some quality point-taking from Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan.
Even before Barrett’s red-card it was the Tribesmen who were on the front foot as the once six-point gap was down to a more manageable two.
But in a match of fine margins having a numerical advantage for over 20 minutes was certainly a big factor in Galway’s favour.
They drew level by the 63rd minute when Canning followed up a sublime sideline cut with another free, but then Tipperary showed great heart to surge clear again thanks to a fine Willie Connors point and a huge Ronan Maher free.
The pivotal play of the game came when Paddy Cadell charged from the Tipperary defence but his attempted clearance was snuffed by tenacious Galway tackling.
From there Galway moved the ball across field to Harte who found himself in acres of space, and rippled the net low to Hogan’s left. It was a score that lifted Galway, and while there were a few nervous moments after that, they emerged victorious from another epic encounter.
Scorers for Galway: Joe Canning 0-14 (12f, 1 sideline ), Cathal Mannion 1-3, Brian Concannon 1-0, Aidan Harte 1-0, Conor Cooney 0-1, Conor Whelan 0-1, Sean Loftus 0-1, Jason Flynn 0-1, Joseph Cooney 0-1, Johnny Coen 0-1,
Scorers for Tipperary: Jason Forde 0-6, Seamus Callanan 1-2 (1f ) (5f ), Noel McGrath 0-4, Patrick Maher 1-0, Alan Flynn 0-2, Michael Breen 0-2, Dan McCormack 0-2, Niall O’Meara 0-1, Jake Morris 0-1, Barry Heffernan 0-1, Willie Connors 0-1, Ronan Maher 0-1 (f ), Brian Hogan 0-1 (f )
GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; Aidan Harte, Daithí Burke, Shane Cooney; Fintan Burke, Gearoid McInerney, Joseph Cooney; Padraic Mannion, Johnny Coen; Joe Canning, Cathal Mannion, David Burke; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Brian Concannon. Subs: Jason Flynn for Johnny Coen (ht ), Adrian Tuohey for David Burke (ht ), Sean Loftus for Fintan Burke (58 ) , Evan Niland for Conor Cooney (58 ), Darren Morrissey for Shane Cooney (71 )
TIPPERARY: Brian Hogan; Cathal Barrett, Ronan Maher, Brendan Maher; Barry Heffernan, Pádraic Maher, Niall O’Meara; Alan Flynn, Michael Breen; Dan McCormack, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher; Jason Forde, Seamus Callanan, Jake Morris. Subs: Willie Connors for Patrick Maher (50 ), John McGrath for Noel McGrath (53 ), Paddy Cadell for Niall O’Meara (58 ), Paul Flynn for Jason Forde (65 ), Mark Kehoe for Dan McCormack (73 )