Galway go for glorySeptember 27, 2012 - 7:00am
Replays tend to be strange beasts, often bearing little or no similarity to what’s gone before. Sometimes you’re even left wondering how the teams were inseparable in their initial collision after one of them wins with loads to spare when squaring up to each other the second time.
Anthony Cunningham had first hand and brutal experience of this exact scenario only last St Patrick’s Day, as Garrycastle – the club football team he managed – did Westmeath proud by holding the mighty Crossmaglen to a draw. The replay, however, proved a disaster as the battle-hardened Armagh men took Dessie Dolan and his team-mates apart. It was a sobering day for Cunningham and he wouldn’t be human if returning to Croke Park on Sunday anxious about a repeat occurring in the All-Ireland Hurling Final replay.
Did Galway, like Garrycastle, spurn a great opportunity in that absorbing stalemate encounter three weeks ago? Sure, Joe Canning displayed admirable nerve to nail the equalising free in injury time but when you lead the All-Ireland champions twice by seven points in the opening half, the greater logic suggests it was the Tribesmen who should be most aggrieved at not finishing the job the first day.
As one of few people who gave Galway a genuine chance of beating Kilkenny in the drawn match, it’s hard to justify the significant shift in public opinion in the interim about the outcome of the replay. Galway are now the popular choice to end a 24-year title famine, especially as initial injury concerns about Kevin Hynes and Iarla Tannian have abated.
The consensus is Kilkenny were out on their feet in early September, a tired team which had thrown everything at Galway after half-time, but still couldn’t wear down the gallant men from the West. Surely their energy levels are starting to run on empty by this stage, while their seasoned players must be sick of going back to the same well day after day, year after year, particularly as the greatest hurling team ever has nothing left to prove. Don’t believe a word of it.
Even Cork goalkeeper, Donal Óg Cusack, has fallen into the trap of thinking that Kilkenny are on their last legs. He recently described them as “tired old men looking for the exit door”. This theory is all a little too obvious and dangerous for my liking. No team has greater pride than Kilkenny, and they will relish the opportunity of proving the prophets of doom wrong.
For all that, the fact is that Galway are unquestionably the coming force in hurling. Young, hungry, highly skillful and tactically aware, they took some of Kilkenny’s best shots in the drawn cliffhanger and are still standing – even if Niall Burke’s breakaway goal camouflages the reality of Kilkenny’s dominance for much of the second-half.
Furthermore, they have scope for some improvement too. David Burke and Cyril Donnellan – understandably lacking match sharpness on September 9 – should certainly be a greater scoring threat on Sunday, while swashbuckling defender Niall Donoghue is unlikely to be so careless when in possession either. It is also reasonable to assume a more evenly-balanced 70 minutes contribution from Canning.
With 12 All-Ireland final novices taking to the field last Sunday fortnight, the overall experience of the occasion should prove beneficial to Galway too. The kicker is, however, that sometimes players have a carefree attitude when not exactly knowing what is ahead of them, but become more tense when they actually realise what hurling’s biggest day is all about.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune All-Ireland Hurling Supplement.