Galway players already tuning in to final replaySeptember 13, 2012 - 7:00am
Did Galway get out of jail? Did Kilkenny leave a 34th All-Ireland title behind them when James Skehill saved Colin Fennelly’s rasper or Henry Shefflin opted to strike his late penalty over the bar? Does it matter? What really counted is that the Tribesmen had three weeks to get it right for the replay when the final whistle sounded at Croke Park on Sunday.
The Galway hurlers have given their followers a Summer to treasure and, unlike virtually all the ‘experts’, they really believed they could beat the greatest team of all time in what was the first senior final for 12 of the 15 starting players.
That attitude was evident when they emerged from the dressing-room and headed for the team bus. Cancel the hotel function and the homecoming, and maybe even the odd wedding or holiday, there is still an All-Ireland to be won on September 30.
When asked if they would like to talk, some of the players politely refused and said they would rather wait until the replay is done and dusted and their ‘mission impossible’ is completed. Both Man of the Match Iarla Tannian and his midfield partner, Andy Smith, said they would talk when the Liam McCarthy Cup was on its way back across the Shannon.
It’s that kind of attitude which saw the men in maroon make a mockery of the widely held belief that the 2011 champions would tear their challenge to shreds as revenge for the Leinster final. Well, it certainly didn’t feel that way until the Cats took control in the third quarter of the game.
The Tribesmen never gave up, even when they found themselves a point down two minutes into injury time. Galway captain Fergal Moore paid tribute to the attitude of his younger colleagues and the fearlessness of Joe Canning when he nailed that last-gasp free into the Hill 16 goals to ensure the sides would have to meet again.
“We were in our first All-Ireland final against a team that has been in a good few of them in the last few years and won most of them. We are delighted to have that chance and we’re looking forward to it now,” said Moore.
“We were always going to keep going to the finish. The only score that matters is the final score. All the kudos goes to Joe. It was an unbelievable pressure free at the end and he put it straight over the black spot. We live to fight another day and we’re delighted to do so.”
Whereas in other years, a Galway team might have wilted in the face of such sustained second half pressure from the reigning champions, Moore was delighted that his team kept fighting to the finish – even when so much went against them in the 20 minutes before Niall Burke’s inspirational goal.
“You get that on the big occasion. There are going to be chances missed on both ends. But we kept going to the final whistle, which is something that a lot of Galway teams haven’t done in the past. We kept fighting and we’ve got ourselves a chance of another day out,” he said.
The theory that the side playing their seventh All-Ireland final in a row would be too strong and too focused for such an inexperienced Galway side was put to bed by the 22nd minute when a wonderful Niall Burke score made it 1-5 to 0-2 for the rank outsiders. They certainly were not overawed by the experience of playing in front of almost 82,000 fans.
“We are an improving team all the time. We are gaining experience day-in, day-out. It was a huge occasion for us today. It was a big step up, the pace of the game and everything. I thought our young fellows responded very well and it can only improve them,” said Moore.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.