For the sixth year in a row the Galway hurlers have been knocked out of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship before the Galway Races. And last Sunday’s 10-point defeat to Waterford was a real kick in the guts for hurling supporters in the county, particularly those who travelled to Semple Stadium with high hopes.
The men wearing maroon never tore into the game as required and produced a very poor, flat, disjointed, and passionless display. They know they have let down their supporters in the crowd of 32,000 plus in a big way.
After a 21-point mauling at the hands of Tipperary in the Munster final, the Déise came out with all guns blazing.
"There were two ways you can react after a defeat like the Munster final," said Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald. "You can go out and take a few pints and forget about it, or you can go home and live through the hurt - and that’s very important, to hurt."
The Waterford players had been hurting badly and they ripped into the tie and had 1-2 on the board within five minutes to Galway’s 0-0.
The goal was indicative of the difference between the teams. It came after an ordinary 20m free in the second minute after full-forward Shane Walsh was pulled down heading for goal. Eoin Kelly went for a three-pointer, but his powerful shot was well saved by James Skehill. However the rebound was in the air for whoever reacted fastest, often a measure of who wants it most. Three Waterford hurleys swung almost simultaneously, but Walsh was sharpest. Waterford had the start they needed and Galway were on the back foot from the start.
John McIntyre’s side was well beaten in almost all positions, but particularly around the middle third. In the two wins coming into the game, over Clare and Cork, Andy Smith and David Burke had been splendid for Galway in midfield. Donal Barry had been a star at wing-back. Joe Gantley did well up front. All were taken off last Sunday. A good few other players could have been too.
The Galway of the Cork and Clare games did not show up. The side that travelled to Thurles last Sunday afternoon resembled the Galway in Mullingar where it struggled for so long against Westmeath, and the Galway of O’Connor Park, where it had been crushed by Dublin. The Galway squad did nothing last Sunday to refute the heavy criticism that had been dished out by former All-Ireland winners from 1987 and 1988 before the Dublin defeat. In fact they only added credence to what had been said.
Waterford led narrowly at half-time.
The gauntlet had been thrown down to Galway - how would they respond?
A five-point salvo from Waterford to start the second half was briefly interrupted when Joe Canning pointed a 40m free, but then another four-point burst from Waterford and they were 10 points clear, 1-18 to 1-8.
Game over. Season over.
Time will tell whether it is the end for John McIntyre’s management team too. After three years in charge and three consecutive defeats at All-Ireland quarter-final stage, there will be plenty of calls for change.
While he and his selectors and training staff will take the brunt of the criticism being handed out this week, the lack of intensity and fire in the bellies of those who crossed the whitewash has to be questioned too.
The bottom line is, and there is no getting away from this fact, Galway are not good enough to compete with the top few sides in the country. Tipperary, Kilkenny and now even Waterford are at a different level. They have not been for a long time and changing managers will not change that reality.