A highly satisfactory National League campaign concluded for Galway with a 3-25 to 2-22 victory over Cork on Sunday that saw Shane O’Neill’s men top Group A and, for now, claim the joint winners tag with Kilkenny.
If the two sides meet in a Leinster final on July 17, there will be two trophies up for grabs as that game will also double up as a league decider in Croke Park.
For the second week running Galway showed tremendous fortitude to turn around a seven-point deficit in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, reeling in and then leaving the Rebels for dust in the second half as Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, and Cathal Mannion all struck majors.
Having conceded a goal within two minutes of the throw-in, Galway never really got into any sort of rhythm playing into the breeze, but Evan Niland continued his excellent form from placed balls to keep them in touch.
Jake O’Connor, however, capitalised on an unforced Gearóid McInerney mistake to strike Cork’s second goal on the stroke of half-time to open a six-point margin. Galway’s response was mightily impressive, outscoring Cork by 3-13 to 0-11 in the second period, with only four of those points conceded coming from play. With Joe Canning missing due to bruised ribs and damaged thumb ligaments, Cathal Mannion, Whelan, and Brian Concannon stood tall once more to drag Galway back into the contest.
An important appearance off the bench for David Burke underlined his importance also, the former captain setting up the third goal and looking sharp after missing the last three games through injury.
The jury may still be out on whether McInerney will be a viable option at number three, as Cork looked to exploit any space in front for their danger man Patrick Horgan to profit. Daithí Burke’s distribution from six was excellent at times, but he did significantly move back to the edge of the square late on.
So where do Galway stand after this five-game spell? They have explored several options in various positions in a far more competitive environment than Group B, and emerged with only one defeat, away to Tipperary. The odds compilers agree that this run of form has edged Galway closer to All-Ireland favourites Limerick, and Shane O’Neill’s aim now will be to have the group approaching optimum performance levels when the Leinster semi-final rolls around on July 3. They will surely take some stopping.
GALWAY: E Murphy; D Morrissey, G McInerney, TJ Brennan; P Mannion (0-1 ), D Burke, F Burke (0-1 ); S Loftus (0-1 ), C Mannion (1-2 ); A Tuohey, E Niland (0-8, 4fs, 2 ’65s ), J Cooney (0-3 ); C Whelan (1-1 ), C Cooney (1-1 ), B Concannon (0-4 ). Subs: J Fitzpatrick for Morrissey (44 ); D Burke (0-1 ) for Tuohey (47 ); J Flynn (0-1f ) for C Cooney (53 ); N Burke (0-1 ) for J Cooney (57 ); S Linnane for McInerney (64 ), J Mannion for Niland (64 ).
CORK: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, E Cadogan, G Millerick; T O’Mahony, M Coleman (0-1 ), D Cahalane; L Meade, D Fitzgibbon (0-4 ); C Cahalane (1-1 ), S Harnedy, S Barrett; S Kingston (0-2 ), P Horgan (0-11, 8fs ), J O’Connor (1-2 ). Subs: A Cadogan for Barrett (35 ); R O’Flynn (0-1 ) for C Cahalane (53m ), A Connolly for Harnedy (53 ); B Hennessy (0-1 ) for L Meade (63 ), D Dalton for O’Connor (63m ); T Deasy for Kingston (67 ); S O’Leary Hayes for Millerick (69 ).
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow )