Triumphant Tribesmen deservedly back at top of hurling elite
By Larry Cooney
At Croke Park
Galway claimed their fifth All-Ireland senior title and first in 29 years after a thrilling three-point victory over Waterford before a capacity Croke Park attendance of 82,300 last Sunday.
On an emotionally charged occasion when many maroon and white clad supporters visibly wept uncontrollably at the final whistle this was an occasion to savour for all who were privileged to witness it.
Whoever came second last Sunday was always likely to be left very hurt and so one can only admire the gracious manner in which the Deise men and their supporters accepted their defeat.
But they should not feel too dejected after a summer in which the Waterford story was almost as much a feature of this year’s hurling championship as was the great Galway hurling revival.
After their disappointing Munster semi-final defeat to Cork last June another Waterford hurling renaissance appeared to be regressing once again until manager Derek McGrath masterminded their recovery in the qualifiers culminating with three significant victories over Kilkenny, Wexford and Cork.
And unlike their All- Ireland final nightmare of nine years ago this Waterford team can also feel quite justified in believing that they are now much nearer to finally ending that 59-year wait for an All-Ireland senior title than they have ever been since 1959 because with the exception of inspirational captain Kevin Moran and the rejuvenated Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, youth is very much on the side of many of the current crop of Waterford stars.
But last Sunday was all about the men from the West who like their opponents are no strangers to heartache on big match days.
In fact last Sunday was Galway’s eighth attempt (including a 2012 replay and another bitter defeat three years later to Kilkenny) since their back to back achievement against Tipperary in 1988 to get their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Is it any wonder therefore why there was hardly a ‘dry-eye’ leaving Croke Park last Sunday after another epic encounter that well and truly lived up to its prematch billing.
Without the presence of hurling’s big guns such as Kilkenny, Tipperary or Cork last Sunday’s All-Ireland final clash always had a novel feel about it probably for the first time since Offaly met Galway in the memorable 1985 decider won by the Faithful County.
Both finalists were also at the peak of their power having steadily gained momentum throughout their respective campaigns.
Both teams also had their heroes but they were mainly wearing maroon shirts on this occasion especially Galway captain David Burke who has become a household name over night after a magnificent individual display followed by an acceptance speech that matched that of Joe Connolly’s unforgettable oration following Galway’s breakthrough victory over Limerick in 1980.
Much has been written about the current Galway spine of the team with David Burke and midfield partner Johnny Coen in the engine-room and it was here where the Tribesmen built the foundation for last Sunday’s memorable victory.
David Burke was quite simply immense and as well as hitting four points he was also well supported by Conor Cooney, Joe Canning, player-of-the-year contender Gearoid McInerney and impact substitutes Niall Burke and Jason Flynn.
But the team effort from the winners was ultimately the difference between success and failure as they simply refused to leave Jones Road empty-handed on this occasion despite everything their gallant opponents threw at them.
Adding the All-Ireland title to the Leinster championship and national hurling league crowns claimed earlier this year, Galway have now completed a marvellous ‘clean-sweep’ to end in considerable style on what has been a magnificent year for hurling in general.
Galway seemed to have the better of an absorbing opening period, hitting some wonderful long range scores, but goals from Kevin Moran and Kieran Bennett ensured that the underdogs were only a point in arrears at the interval when the score was Galway 0-14 Waterford 2-7.
There was one late change to Waterford’s starting line-up, with Kieran Bennett replacing Darragh Lyons and the ever-dependable Moran reverting to his customary midfield role, while Galway started as selected.
The Tribesmen made a dream start, notching four points in the first four minutes: Canning opened the scoring at the Davin End inside 20 seconds before Johnny Coen, Joseph Cooney and Cathal Mannion made it 0-4 to 0-0. Were the Deise going to be blown away again on All- Ireland final day?
That was the big worry now circulating around the packed arena but after Waterford’s talismanic captain Moran collected a pass from fellow veteran Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh to plant a fourth minute bullet to the bottom left corner of the net under Hill 16, it really was ‘Game-On’.
But with their uncanny ability to pick off points from any corner of the ground Galway stuck to their ‘game-plan’ and kept the scoreboard ticking over with points from Conor Cooney and David Burke, but back came Waterford with points from their top scorer Pauric Mahony (free) and Moran before Mannion, Canning and Conor Cooney all registered their second points to make it 0- 9 to 1-2 after fourteen exhilarating minutes.
Waterford halved their deficit through Mahony and Walsh – an excellent point from beneath the Cusack Stand – and David Burke increased the gap before the sides were level for the first time in the 22nd minute when Kieran Bennett’s freak long delivery deceived Colm Callanan and bounced all the way to the net with Shane Bennett lurking – 2- 4 to 0-10.
The corner forward certainly got in Callanan’s eyeline and, though failing to connect, his swing at the sliothar did enough to cause the goal. But it was his last contribution as he departed the action through injury, making way for substitute Maurice Shanahan.
Canning’s delightful trademark sideline ball from under the Cusack Stand flew between the uprights and Whelan added a tremendous point from the same area on the run after a Mahony free had tied the scores up again.
Conor Cooney pointed in the 32nd minute as Galway moved two ahead once more but a brace from the outstanding Jamie Barron drew Waterford level once again.
However Canning’s free deep into injury-time at the end of the first half handed Micheal Donoghue’s men a deserved but narrow lead to leave the half-time score: Galway 0-14 Waterford 2-7.
Mahony’s 38th-minute free had them level for the third time and Canning’s fifth point (free) restored Galway’s lead, only for Mahony to equalise from play following superb approach play from Barron.
In the 43rd minute, Mahony’s next converted free had Na Deise in front for the first time, 2-10 to 0-15. Canning (free) and David Burke pointed either side of Mahony’s seventh score before the latter’s fifth of the second half edged the men in white and blue back in front for the last time with 47 minutes played.
Substitute Niall Burke hammered over a brace as Galway recaptured the lead with twenty-two minutes remaining and a long-range Canning free also found the target at the Hill 16 end to leave two points in it once more.
David Burke struck the fourth consecutive Galway point but a sensational point from Waterford substitute Brian O’Halloran ensured that the gap was just two as a pulsating encounter entered the final quarter.
Another Mahony (free) and substitute Jason Flynn then exchanged points before Waterford substitute Tommy Ryan demonstrated frightening pace before halving the deficit.
However Galway’s response was undoubtedly the winning of the match for them. Quick-fire points from Canning (from the softest of frees), Jason Flynn and Conor Cooney eventually opened up a decisive fourpoint lead with seven minutes remaining.
Although Mahony’s 69th-minute free potentially left a solitary score between the teams and he then pointed his eleventh score in injury time after Canning had converted a free on the stroke of 70 minutes.
But Galway with leaders all over the park were never likely to concede a late equalising goal and held on heroically in a riveting finale to deservedly return to the winner’s rostrum for the first time since Conor Hayes in 1988.
GALWAY: Colm Callanan; Adrian Tuohy, Daithi Burke, John Hanbury; Padraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen (0- 1), David Burke (0-4); Joseph Cooney (0-2), Joe Canning (0-9, 6f, 1sl), Johnny Glynn; Conor Whelan (0-1), Conor Cooney (0- 3), Cathal Mannion. SUBS: Niall Burke for Johnny Glynn, Jason Flynn for Cathal Mannion, Shane Maloney for David Burke.
WATERFORD: Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Kieran Bennett, Tadhg de Burca, Philip Mahony; Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran; Darragh Fives, Austin Gleeson, Pauric Mahony; Shane Bennett, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Jake Dillon. SUBS: Maurice Shanahan for Shane Bennett (inj.), Brian O’Halloran for Jake Dillon, Tommy Ryan for Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Colin Dunford for Jamie Barron, Patrick Curran for Kieran Bennett.
REFEREE: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).