There was a fantastic sense of satisfaction and contentment for Galway fans in Croke Park on Sunday after a five-point victory (0-22 to 0-17 ) over Cork saw them into the All Ireland final for the first time in seven years.
It was not a stunning performance by any means, and the giddiness of the win over Kilkenny in the Leinster final was absent. However, it was a professional and mature performance in what was a necessary stepping stone to a final.
It was an ideal result and performance in many ways, as it will help dampen the hype about Galway and will give the management team and panel of players plenty to work on over the coming weeks.
Everywhere you looked around Jury’s Hotel last Sunday evening there were clusters of Galway supporters smiling happily. Those heading from the stadium on Jones Road and up Clonliffe Road did so with a jaunt in their stride and with their colours held proudly. And already the talk was turning to the chase for tickets for September the ninth.
We met Supermac himself, Pat McDonagh, exiting the ground, wearing a happy, contented, “today’s objective achieved”, sort of frazzled expression. The long-time hurling sponsor was in a happy place and he was not alone.
The Galway hurlers were back in their first All-Ireland final since 2005, and it has been almost a quarter of a century since the Liam McCarthy has come west.
Kilkenny or Tipperary will pose a very formidable challenge, but it was good to savour the achievement of getting to the final. Too often in the past two decades a Galway senior hurling team has gone to Croke Park with high hopes and so often, against Cork especially, those hopes have been dashed.
High hopes realised
Despite the high hopes going up the M6 on Sunday morning, there was also a small nagging fear Galway could lose a game they were expected to win.
However with players like Joe Canning and Damien Hayes, who have three All-Ireland wins in four years with Portumna, driven youngsters like Johnny Coen, Niall Donoghue, Niall Burke James Regan and David Burke, and some experienced leaders in Fergal Moore, Tony Óg Regan, Andy Smith and David Collins, that fear was unfounded.
Galway were ready for the battle and they needed to be because they were well tested by Cork. Despite that test, it was Galway who advanced and as midfielder Andy Smith put it, they had “won ugly”.
Galway struck the first point from Damien Hayes within half-a-minute of throw-in, but thereafter and for the next 25 minutes or so it was Cork who looked the more impressive. They led on the half-hour mark, 0-9 to 0-7.
However Galway hit a purple patch just before the small whistle. Joe Canning had two points, David Burke hit two beauties, and the sides were level at the break (0-11 apiece ).
Four sucessive points from Canning (two ), Hayes, and Niall Burke in the third quarter set Galway on their way, giving them a three-point lead in the 46th minute (0-15 to 0-12 ).
Solid Cork defence
Galway then went into protect mode. What we have we hold. And you could see extra players dropping deeper and deeper, crowding out the area in front of goal. ‘Whatever else happens, we’re not going to concede a goal’, seemed to be the rationale.
Twenty-one-year-olds Johnny Coen and Niall Donoghue came out with some great possession in that period and, with Hayes and Canning still doing damage on the scoreboard and in general play, and Andy Smith and Iarla Tannian doing Trojan work, Galway closed out the game with a maturity and ruthlessness that was great to see.
However some of the passing – if you could call it that – in the last quarter would be folly against better opposition. A number of times hard-won possession was driven aimlessly into space with no Galway player in sight and was gobbled up by Cork defenders.
No doubt Mattie Kenny, Tom Helebert and Anthony Cunningham will analyse the DVD of last Sunday and inform their panel on what needs to be improved upon for four weeks’ time. The 14 wides hit will also come up for discussion and the need to be more efficient in scoring positions.
However, Galway still notched 0-22 and with the guts of a month to work on improving, Galway hurling supporters will be hoping to see more smiley maroon heads around 5.30pm on the second Sunday in September in the Big Smoke.
Galway: James Skehill, Fergal Moore (Cpt ), Kevin Hynes, Johnny Coen, David Collins, Tony Óg Regan, Niall Donoghue, Iarla Tannian, Andy Smith 0-1, David Burke 0-2, Niall Burke 0-2, James Regan 0-2, Conor Cooney, Joe Canning 0-11 (5fs, 2 65s ), Damien Hayes 0-4. Subs: Davey Glennon for Cooney (54 ), Cyril Donnellan for Regan (62 ), Jonathan Glynn for N Burke (67 ), Joseph Cooney for D Burke (72 ).