The Galway minor footballers battled bravely against a highly-rated Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland final in Croke Park, and although they lost by 3-7 to 0-9, they were a good bit closer to the Munster champions for the first 50 minutes.
A seven-point defeat was a bit harsh at the final whistle as they were only two behind, 2-4 to 0-8, after 52 minutes. Then Kerry's "wunderkid" David Clifford, who is underage again next season and is being compared to Kerry great Maurice Fitzgerald, scored a cracker of a goal to seal the deal for Kerry and record the first three-in-a-row of minor titles since Cork won three in 1967/68/69.
The sides were even in many facets of play except the clinical nature of Kerry's finishing, and ultimately Stephen Joyce's team were undone by Kerry's three goals.
The first was a bit of a fluke as a high ball from out the field got a flick from Kerry's captain Seán O'Shea which seemed to deceive Galway custodian Cormac Haslam, and the size five O'Neills nestled in the corner of the Galway net for Kerry to lead by 1-1 to 0-0.
While Kerry's first goal was a little fortuitous, there can be no complaints about their other two, in which young Clifford was centrally involved.
It is indeed a golden period for underage football in Kerry who have delivered a third consecutive Tom Markham Cup success, which adds to the Hogan Cup victories enjoyed by Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne (2014 and ’15 ) and St Brendan’s Killarney last April (2016 ).
The level of the work and coaching at underage level in that county is absolutely colossal and it would be no harm if a delegation of coaches and officers from Galway spent a weekend or two down there over the winter scrutinising what is being done in the county, and took some medium-term and long-term plans home to the west.
There is no shame in learning from the best. Not being prepared to do so is a different matter.
Galway defended in numbers
Galway rightly defended in numbers last Sunday and Kerry struggled to punch holes in the maroon defence. The problem was at the other end where Galway just could not raise a white flag for almost 20 minutes.
At least five wides were tallied in that first quarter by Galway as Finian Ó Laoi and Evan Murphy were off target a few times.
It took 18 minutes for Galway to get their first score off Dessie Conneely, but then Clifford fielded a long delivery superbly, offloaded to full-forward David Shaw, and he drilled a low shot past Haslam, 2-1 to 0-1.
Caherlistrane's Cein D’Arcy, who worked tirelessly for the entire game, hit Galway's second point of the half, but the two goals for Kerry were the key scores of the half.
Galway came out strongly in the second half and after only 51 seconds they had matched their first-half total as Robert Finnerty and Adam Quirke fired over successive efforts. Four of the next scores also went to Galway to cut the gap further, and Galway supporters and the team itself started to believe there could be a massive shock on the cards.
However, that was before Clifford intervened with his exquisite goal, and there would be no way back into the game for the Galway lads.
Scorers for Galway: R Finnerty (0-3, 0-2 frees ); D Conneely (0-2, 0-2 frees ); A Quirke, C D’Arcy, R Forde, R Cunningham (0-1 each ).
Galway: C Haslam (Glenamaddy ), E McFadden (Salthill-Knocknacarra ), S Mulkerrin (Aran Islands ), L Boyle (Kilkerrin-Clonberne ), A Quirke (Annaghdown ), E McDonagh (Bearna ), F Garvey (Monivea-Abbey ), C D’Arcy (Caherlistrane ), J Maher (Salthill-Knocknacarra ), F Ó Laoi (An Spidéal ), E Murphy (Salthill Knocknacarra ), R Forde (Annaghdown ), R Finnerty (Salthill-Knocknacarra ), S Raftery (Glenamaddy ), D Conneely - Cpt (Maigh Cuillinn ). Subs used: B Goldrick (Claregalway ), R Murphy (Barna ), R Cunningham (St Brendan’s ), E Deely (Salthill-Knocknacarra ).