Galway show true gritAugust 16, 2012 - 8:55am
IF it was never in the DNA of a Galway hurler to edge out a tight battle amid high expectations, it is now. Perhaps the performance lacked the intensity and sheer brilliance of the Leinster final, but that only made it all the more admirable as Galway drew on reserves of character, guts, and determination to see off a gritty Cork challenge in a tense and absorbing All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday.
A team who stormed through a provincial campaign suddenly found themselves battling for championship survival and all of those questions over whether or not they could manage a second ‘big’ performance in a row were answered in a pulsating final quarter in which the Tribesmen closed out the deal to book their first final berth in seven years.
It was the kind of test which will surely stand to Anthony Cunningham’s new-look side. They didn’t tear into the Rebels, they weren’t allowed to; they didn’t rattle the Cork net and, crucially, they didn’t collapse when the pressure was on after the Munster men – revelling in the role of underdogs – had matched them toe-to-toe for the entire first half.
The team who tore All-Ireland champions Kilkenny apart last month took an awful long time to shake off the Cork challenge and the result looked very much in doubt when a superb point from substitute Cathal Naughton inspired a huge Rebel roar and left just two points between the sides with 13 minutes to go.
But the Galway boys never lost their composure, crowding out the midfield and showing a superb work-rate in defence in that key closing stretch. Crucially, they outscored the Rebels 4-1 in that final period, restricting Cork to just one long-range pointed free from goalkeeper Anthony Nash as they fought for possession all over the field.
They also landed three scores in a row at a key stage early in the second half and never lost control after finding themselves on level terms, at 0-11 each, at the end of a first half in which a Cork side with nothing to lose had matched their intensity from the outset.
With the Portumna duo of Joe Canning and Damien Hayes, who landed 0-4 each from play, having the firepower to inflict damage at the other end, the real joy to treasure from this victory came from the superb defensive performances of team captain Fergal Moore, Niall Donoghue, and Johnny Coen.
The announcement before the throw-in that Padraig Pearses wing-forward Cyril Donnellan had failed to recover from his arm injury provided an early blow to the Galway supporters who made up the majority in the attendance of 41,537.
But his replacement, young James Regan, performed admirably in a sector in which both David and Niall Burke – despite three first half wides – turned in fine performances.
All three of the men who started on the Galway half-forward line contributed 0-2 from play.
Galway should take huge heart from beating Cork without having reached the dizzy heights of the Kilkenny game and the performances of Moore, Donoghue, Coen, Canning, Hayes, the Burkes, the
Regans, Tannian and Smith should give the panel great encouragement heading into next month’s final.
A team which began the year amid low expectations and an eye on the future suddenly finds itself weeks away from a shot at glory and the chance to end a 24 year famine. They have ‘won ugly’ now and delivered on expectations. Changed times indeed for Galway hurling!
For a score by score report see ‘No fireworks but hurlers answer all’