Over the past two decades Galway minor hurling teams have enjoyed several bountiful Sunday afternoons in September, and Mattie Murphy’s current crop of youngsters will be anxious to add another to the collection this weekend.
Being favourites against Kilkenny in an All Ireland decider is a rarity for Galway, but the evidence suggests this team can cope with the heavy burden of expectancy.
Under Murphy’s shrewd guidance Galway have advanced to the decider with admirable simplicity, dealing capably with the challenges Antrim and Waterford mustered.
Unsurprisingly Antrim were torched at Parnell Park in a contest which provided a reminder of Richie Cummins’ pace and promise, and while the Waterford win was not as facile, Galway were always in control.
Such efficient performances augur well because Kilkenny have stitched a typically skilful outfit together. A year ago Galway ought to have landed the Irish Press Cup, but they were pipped by Kilkenny, who finished with a flourish.
Despite being held scoreless for 25 minutes of a tight second half, Kilkenny remained composed as Danny Purcell notched 1-1 in a quickfire burst to fracture Galwegian hearts.
There were six survivors who featured during that defeat when Galway nudged Waterford out, each and every one providing an adequate contribution. Goalkeeper Fergal Flannery, Domhnaill Fox, David Glennon, Brian Flaherty, Niall Burke, and Cummins all occupy important roles in this Galway side, again being trained diligently by Murphy, who remains a master at this level.
Galway are searching for an eighth title, and the fact that Murphy has guided the county to four previous successes proves his significant ability. The triumphs in 1992, 1994, 2004, and 2005 were all achieved with a brisk brand of hurling, and Murphy’s coaching pedigree is unquestionable.
Preparing youngsters for the rigourous of Drumcondra in summer and autumn is a job Murphy relishes. Still the competitor in Murphy will be fully aware of the threat Kilkenny pose, especially after the manner of last year’s reversal.
Centre back Richie Doyle, man of the match when the counties last collided, anchors the defence, and his joust with Niall Burke will be revealing. In attack Walter Walsh’s bustling aggression has already unnerved Wexford and Tipperary so full back Daithi Burke will need to maintain the form that is earning him a favourable reputation.
This Galway panel is sprinkled with hurlers of considerable potential, and the despair of 2008 hasn’t been forgotten. In the bowels of Croke Park that afternoon Murphy wondered about how Galway had failed to close the deal, “I haven't a clue how we lost that," was one of the anguished sentences he delivered during a cruel post-match assessment.
Another campaign, though, brought an opportunity to turn Galway back into contenders, and that initial errand has been accomplished. Ultimately it is the tag of champions that is now craved, and Galway can realise that ambition.
•SEE RAY SILKE FOR INTERVIEW WITH MATTIE MURPHY