Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Galway hurlers do county proud in classic finalSeptember 12, 2012 - 9:33am
THE All-Ireland hurling final has already been analysed to death – and there will be more intense scrutiny of the match over the coming days – but the only thing that really matters this week is that the Galway hurlers are still standing after an absorbing struggle for supremacy in Croke Park last Sunday.
A relatively inexperienced team and one completely new to the pressures of All-Ireland final day did the county proud in producing another tactically astute, high energy performance which came desperately close to giving Galway their first championship triumph in 24 years.
It was a final they could have won; it was a final they could have lost; but once more Galway’s huge progress this season was underlined by their ability to put Kilkenny on the ropes, only this time the greatest team ever to grace the hurling fields somehow pulled themselves together to launch a storming second-half revival which carried them to the brink of victory.
Ultimately, it took a huge pressure free from Joe Canning to salvage a draw for Galway, but this was a game they did not deserve the lose despite becoming over defensive minded after the interval. The final had everything – highlighted by a magnificent second-half, some superb individual displays, rousing scores and a nerve-wracking conclusion which culminated in the first drawn decider since 1959.
No wonder the hearts of spectators were thumping at the end of the match. There was an automatic sense of anti climax, but as the seconds gave way to minutes and the minutes gave way to hours, all had to acknowledge that it was a privilege to have been at the coalface of a mighty battle. James Skehill’s wonder second-half save and Canning’s superb first-half goal were nearly worth the admission price alone.
There were so many other critical moments in the match that it was hard to keep track of all of them but few of us expected that Kilkenny would again end up in desperate trouble in the opening-half. They had started with the greater purpose, but some early wides unsettled them and twice before half-time the champions trailed by seven points and were scarcely hanging on.
Galway and neutrals had been braced for Kilkenny to hit the ground running with a savage intensity. After-all, nobody does revenge like the Cats but when their early pressure didn’t yield the anticipated scores, it was almost as if the trauma of what they had experienced in the Leinster was coming back to haunt them. Kilkenny were hesitant and once more struggled with the Tribesmen’s ability to create space up front.
To be honest, I thought Kilkenny were gone at half-time even though they had cut the deficit to five points, 1-9 to 0-7. Galway appeared to have the legs of them while key defenders, Brian Hogan and JJ Delaney, were losing their duels with Niall Burke and Canning respectively. At the other end of the field, only TJ Reid really looked threatening for the title holders, though it was already clear that Henry Shefflin, chasing a record-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal, was up for the challenge.
He registered the first score of a tense opening half with a pointed free in the fifth minute, but Kilkenny were soon on the retreat. Andy Smith, not for the first time in the past 18 months, got Galway off the mark with a cracking score before the huge Galway following erupted when Canning broke through for a stunning individual goal after the mobile James Regan had created the opening out of nothing.
Almost immediately, Canning landed a terrific long distance point and with Kilkenny spurning chances from frees and play, they became increasingly rattled all over the field. Even though Jackie Tyrrell was not letting the roving Damien Hayes out of his sights, it ensured the Galway attack had again oceans of space in which to operate in as young Niall Burke, in particular, began to thrive under the dropping ball.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.