Sporting Review of the Year 2017
If it was a case of ‘as you were’ in the football, as Dublin triumphed again, then it was the age of a new dawn in hurling as Galway finally got their hands on the Liam MacCarthy after a 29-year wait by overcoming Waterford 0-26 to 2-17 in the final.
It was a deserved victory for the Tribesmen, who were contesting their third final in six seasons, over a Waterford side who themselves were looking to create some history of their own by winning a senior title for the first time since 1959.
Galway fired over four points in the first four minutes, but Waterford hadn’t made the trip to Croker to make up the numbers.
Kevin Moran scored a break-away goal against the run of play and then a long ball from Kieran Bennett landed on the edge of the Galway square and bounced to the net past Colm Callanan. It was fortuitous, but the sides were all square after 22 minutes.
Galway’s hurling ability wasn’t in doubt. This was now a test of their mental toughness. By half-time Galway had edged into the lead again, 0-14 to 2-7, but Pauric Mahony scored five points in a row, two of them from play, to push Waterford into a one-point lead.
Waterford were within just the minimum in the 59th minute, but cometh the hour, cometh Galway, and in a crucial three-minute spell between the 60th and 63rd minutes they hit three points from Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and Jason Flynn to move four points ahead. It proved to be enough to get them over the line.
All that was left was for Fergal Horgan to sound the final whistle, and signal the lifting of 29 years of Galway frustration, to be replaced by pure joy. For Canning, in particular, who’d been the driving force behind it, it was a moment to treasure as he finally got his hands on an All Ireland winner’s medal.
A year to saviour for Galway, but for hurling’s other big heavyweights Kilkenny and 2016 winners Tipperary, it was a year to forget, while we witnessed the re-emergence of Cork as a force.
Waterford saw off the impressive Rebels in the semi-finals, while Galway ended Tipperary’s short reign as All Ireland champions in the other semi-final, 0-22 to 1-18. A breath-taking match was decided by a moment of sheer brilliance from Canning.
It looked like a replay for all money, only for the ball to find its way into the hands of Canning, and the Portumna man produced a strike so clean under immense pressure from the sideline and 60 yards out, to win it for Galway. While neither side deserved to lose, it was a fitting finale to “a game of hurling for the ages”.
For the first time for what felt like forever, Kilkenny’s name was missing from the semi-final line up after their year was ended in Round 2 of the qualifiers by Waterford. Their extra-time 4-23 to 2-22 win was their first over the Cats in Championship hurling since 1959.
Another contender for game of the season saw Kilkenny rattle off an unanswered salvo of 1-5 to force extra-time, but goals from man-of-the-match Jamie Barron and Maurice Shanahan sealed a famous win in an extraordinary hurling year.
The Munster final went the way of Cork, who were a breath of fresh air in this year’s championship. They saw off Clare in the final by 1-25 to 1-20.
The Rebels had signalled their re-emergence with wins over last year’s All Ireland champions Tipperary – a victory that had the pundits drooling over the Rebels’ young guns – and Waterford on the way to reaching the final with some style.
The Leinster final went the way of Galway, who beat Wexford by 0-29 to 1-17 to give the Tribesmen just their second provincial win, and five years after their first in 2012.
The Model County’s semi-final victory over the Cats confirmed the changing of the order, as Wexford beat Brian Cody’s outfit 1-20 to 3-11. It was their first win over Kilkenny in the championship since 2004.
Elsewhere in the championship, Carlow were crowned Christy Ring champions, beating Antrim by 5-23 to 4-15 in the final, while Derry saw off Armagh 3-23 to 2-15 in the Nicky Rackard decider.
Warwickshire triumphed in the Lory Meagher Cup, winning all of their group games before beating Leitrim in the final, 0-17 to 0-11.
In the National Hurling League, Galway beat Tipperary in the Division 1 final, 0-14 to 3-21, while Antrim took the honours in Division 2A by beating Carlow in the final, 2-12 to 0-15.
In the Division 2B final, Meath defeated Wicklow by 2-15 to 4-24, while the Division 3A final was an all Ulster affair as Donegal beat Tyrone by 4-25 to 1-12. Finally, there was disappointment for Warwickshire as they went down to Longford in the Division 3B final, 4-19 to 3-20, after extra-time.
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