Tribesmen on march to glorySeptember 28, 2012 - 7:00am
Mission Impossible’: Part Three! The bookmakers and pundits still firmly believe that Kilkenny will capture their ninth All-Ireland hurling title in 13 years on Sunday, but a fearless young Galway side will have other ideas when the counties clash for the third time in the 2012 championship at Croke Park on Sunday (3.30pm).
Having hammered the champions in a shock Leinster Final in July, and survived after finding themselves behind in injury time of the drawn All-Ireland Final, Anthony Cunningham’s young team should feel they have nothing to lose despite the heightened expectations in the wake of the thrilling stalemate three weeks ago.
The composure shown by the Galway players to scrape out an equalising point in the tension-filled closing minutes should also provide supporters with plenty of hope when up to 40,000 followers of the men in maroon make the trip to GAA headquarters this weekend.
Both teams will have learned valuable lessons from the pulsating contest on September 9, but it was a most ‘un-Galwaylike’ performance from the men in maroon to hang on so doggedly when so much went against them in the second half of that thrilling contest.
Kilkenny are still chasing a phenomenal sixth title in seven years, and retain such an aura under Brian Cody’s management that they are still firm favourites with the bookies (4/9), despite being so long on the road. But the Tribesmen have gone toe-to-toe with them in two major championship tussles and remain the only unbeaten side in the country this year.
Yes, there was an alarming fade-out in the third quarter, just as there was in the semi-final victory over Cork and, indeed, the Leinster final. Henry Shefflin dragged the champions almost single-handedly back into the game, helping the Cats to outscore the Tribesmen by 0-10 to 0-2 between the 33rd and 55th minutes and 0-12 to 1-4 in the entire second half.
Nerves of steel
But Galway showed nerves of steel to hang on, with Niall Burke’s goal giving them a lifeline against the run of play, and Joe Canning looking the most composed man among the 82,000 throng when he calmly converted the 72nd minute free which brought the tie to a replay.
It was the kind of tight battle which Galway would have lost agonisingly during over two decades of fruitless campaigns in search of the Liam MacCarthy Cup, underlined by the tame exits to Dublin and Waterford which heralded the demise of the John McIntyre regime last year. Under Cunningham and company, the 2012 team have been men transformed.
It took both camps a few days to get their heads around the first drawn All-Ireland Final in 53 years, but by all accounts the Galway players have been ‘buzzing’ in training over the past fortnight as they are relishing another shot at the title. They know another big performance is within them on Sunday.
There is huge scope for improvement. Of the starting forwards, only Canning (1-9) and Niall Burke (1-2) made an impact on the scoreboard. Burke was sensational in the first half, before Kilkenny defenders Brian Hogan and Paul Murphy took control of the game in their half of the field.
The extra three weeks should be of huge benefit to Cyril Donnellan, who was in flying form before a broken arm ruled him out of the semi-final, while the promising David Burke will hope to deliver more to the Galway cause. Damien Hayes has taken on a new role, foraging back the field for possession so effectively this Summer, but both he had James Regan are well capable of taking important scores.
All year, the management have focused on the importance of setting up scores for the man in the best position. It will hardly matter who gets the scores on Sunday, as long as the Tribesmen finish with the greater haul, but the way in which the forwards lost their shape in the third quarter of the drawn game – playing too far from the Kilkenny goals – has been one of the issues they have tried to address in training.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.