The Galway minor footballers took themselves, their families, their management team and their supporters on a roller-coaster ride last Sunday afternoon in one of the most astonishing games of Gaelic football you will ever see at inter-county level.
The score-line of Cork 3-15 Galway 5-08 gives some indication of the helter-skelter nature of the contest, but it only tells part of the story.
Gerry Fahy’s Galway team lead by 5-6 to 2-6 going into the final quarter and looked the more likely team to advance. Their full-forward line of Conor Rabbitte (2-1 ), Peadar Ó Gríofa (2-1, 1f ) and Shane Maughan (0-3, 1f ), were running the Cork defence ragged.
Every time they had possession they looked likely to score, with Maughan a constant thorn in the Rebel rearguard and his use of possession a joy to watch.
Instead Cork took almost complete control around the half-back line, midfield, and half-forward line and powered through to outscore Galway by 1-9 to 0-2 in the final quarter.
It was a massive turnaround in a short space of time.
That said, it was not a complete shock. Cork had torn through the Galway defence on a fair number of occasions in the first half too and only for some poor finishing, over-elaboration, and a few good saves from John Keane, Cork would have raised a few more green flags.
A key moment in the whole contest was Cork’s third goal which came almost immediately after Rabbitte had netted Galway’s fifth major.
Cork’s right corner forward Kevin Hallissey, who scored 2-3 in total, burst onto a loose ball and netted. That gave them belief. Then they tore into the game and chased Galway down after that score.
Galway did not have the answers for the increased work-rate and intensity and, with Thomas Flynn, who was just back from injury, tiring after a fine first 40 minutes, Cork lorded possession.
Cork also brought on some big men as subs and they helped turned the tide their way.
In an ideal world, Gerry Fahy would have been able to call on the likes of the injured Eanna Ó hEochaidh who was the original team captain, to come on and catch a few kick-outs to stem the flow of ball going towards James Keane’s goal.
That was not to be though, and Cork powered into the Galway rearguard with conviction. Indeed were it not for a wonderful save from Keane, Galway would have been reined in much faster.
Instead Cork tacked on a few nice points and levelled the game at 5-07 to 3-13 to set up a grand-stand finish.
put Galway one up
Shane Maughan then showed terrific leadership and belief to catch a Galway kick-out, play a clever one-two with Ó Gríofa, before launching a scud missile to dissect the Cork posts.
It was a score worthy of winning any contest.
Instead Cork landed two sucker-punches and Brian Hurley kicked over a late free to buckle Galway, deep in injury time.
The game-winning free was a real kick in the guts as Galway had possession on the attack, but a wild cross-field ball was intercepted before a soft free was blown by Eddie Kinsella.
Hurley did his job and Galway were gone.
Despite playing some brilliant football at stages and scoring five goals, Galway were out.
They would not be part of this year’s All-Ireland final day.
Tears flowed freely
Their one-point defeat left the Galway players and their management team dismayed and sickened and in a state of shock after the final whistle.
Tears flowed freely and team manager Gerry Fahy spoke of the devastation in the Galway dressing-room.
“Of course, it's very disappointing for us. But even when we went three goals up, I didn't think we were home and dry by any means.
"We were well aware of how Cork had battled back so well against Kerry and Armagh, so we knew they would throw everything at us.
"Despite the defeat I feel that many of the lads are good enough to wear the Galway senior jersey in the future. A good few of them are young enough for minor next year too and hopefully they will have learned a lot from the experience of playing in Croke Park.”
It was a very chastening experience for the young men involved last Sunday, but they can learn from it and go on to be better players from the experience.
It was impossible not to have been impressed with the scoring potential of Peadar Ó Gríofa, who took both his goals extremely well.
He can become a more polished player with good coaching and hard work and he will know he should have laid off a ball to Niall Quinn instead of shooting himself at one stage that would have led to another Galway goal. He is young and talented and he will improve.
St Michael’s Shane Maughan also has an abundance of natural talent and I love the way he shields and protects the ball under his arm when in possession. His use of possession was top class and he has improved as the season has progressed.
The likes of James Keane, who needs to work on his kick-outs, James Shaughnessy, Daithí Burke, Thomas Flynn, Niall Walsh, Conor Rabbitte, and Mark Loughnane (first half ) all made big contributions last Sunday. And the entire panel are to be commended on their efforts all season.
It was not good enough this time and I felt the better and more balanced team did win. Often, it is not a player on the starting 15 or even 20 who goes on to make a senior player.
Just one quick example of this: In the 2005 All-Ireland minor final when Down defeated Mayo, Down’s Kevin McKernan was a sub. Last Sunday he kicked 0-2 from centre-back for the Down seniors and was superb.
The youngster who sticks the course and works hard in the interim is the one who usually makes it.
Galway: J Keane, C MacDonnacha, J Shaughnessy, P Varley, M Loughnane, M Kelly, J Vaughan, E Commins, T Flynn, N Quinn (0-1 ), F O Curraoin, N Walsh ((1-1 ) P O Griofa (2-1, 1f ), C Rabbitte (2-1 ), S Maughan (0-3, 1f ). Subs: D Burke for Vaughan (20 ), C ONeill (0-1 ) for Commins (24 ), F O Bearra for Quinn (43 ), A Varley for Walsh (53 ), D Black for MacDonnacha (58 ).