A DULL, listless day in Galway – even the weather was less than committed – but Cork and Galway served up a relatively entertaining NHL Division One game, despite having nothing to play for.
Galway were seven points ahead at the finish, but manager John McIntyre acknowledged it wasn’t a fair reflection of the game: "To win by seven might have flattered us in the end but we’re keeping a sense of perspective. It’ll be a completely different Cork team in two weeks."
Both McIntyre and Denis Walsh decided to look at some fringe players – Galway made 15 changes from their previous outing, while Cork were relatively restrained with a dozen alterations from their last game.
The match itself was not ferociously competitive, most of the exchanges being at about the intensity of a match played to open a new club pitch and with an attendance to match of fewer than a thousand spectators.
The first half was a nip-and-tuck affair, with Galway taking a lead thanks to Niall Healy, dangerous all through, who goaled from close range on 13 minutes.
That put Galway level, 1-1 to 0-4, but within a minute Luke O’Farrell had an opportunist goal when a Ben O’Connor shot came back off the post.
From there to the interval the sides exchanged points, with Cork slightly sharper, as shown by their half-time lead of 1-8 to 1-7.
"We had good enough control of the game, there wasn’t much in it," said Denis Walsh afterwards. "I suppose we should have been more ahead at half-time and we had a few fellas... we lost Brian Murphy and Jerry O’Connor before the game, they would have given us experience. We had one or two sick as well and they played, in fairness, but they’re tired now.
"Galway probably put in a few bigger, physical fellas that we weren’t able to match at the bitter end, which we’d expect to do in two weeks."
Galway pulled ahead early in the second half but Kieran Murphy’s first-time pull yielded a Cork goal on 50 minutes, and the enterprising William Egan tacked on a point to nudge Cork ahead.
As McIntyre said later, Galway "had to win the game a second time", and as Walsh acknowledged, the arrival of big Joe Gantley gave Galway a bridgehead in the Cork half. Niall Healy was the key player, keeping Galway in touch from placed balls.
With five minutes to go Healy goaled crisply from close range to give Galway a decisive three-point lead – a late, late goal from substitute Damien Hayes was the icing on the cake.
"We wouldn’t have thought finishing top was possible the way we lost to Tipperary," said McIntyre, "But the lads have regrouped magnificently since that game. Both teams were missing a lot of front-liners but the fifteen from both sides wanted to give a good account of themselves and put their names on a jersey for the league final."
Denis Walsh was keeping things in perspective for Cork. "The lads are disappointed to lose, they wanted to keep the unbeaten record intact. That’s gone but it’s all geared for two weeks time.
"It’s going to be a big game. It’s a national title and four weeks out from the championship, it’ll put some pressure on us all. I’d expect us to be well up for it."
Well, Denis, given you mentioned the championship, will you be putting out your championship team in the league final?
"Do you want a yes or no?" said Walsh with a laugh. "That’d be a dangerous one. That’s four weeks from the championship so we’ll come reasonably close, but between now and then we might have a few fellas injured, and maybe we won’t have decided which way to go with some of the big men compared to some of the smaller men.
"It’s a question of the right combination, but we’ll be trying to put out something very close to our strongest team."
McIntyre had his own positive spin – Niall Healy’s 2-9 was impressive for one of the "more maligned players in the county", as his manager put it.
"Any game worth playing is worth winning," said McIntyre. "That was our approach. We had to empty the bench a little towards the end but we got there. But Cork in a league final in Thurles, it’ll be chalk and cheese to Cork in Galway missing maybe two-thirds of their team."
Scorers for Galway: N. Healy 2-9 (0-5 fs, 0-1 pen); D. Hayes 1-1; N. Hayes and F. Coone 0-2;; A. Callanan, N. Cahalan and C. Dervan (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: B. O’Connor 0-5 (0-4 fs), K. Murphy 1-1; L. O’Farrell 1-0; M. Cussen, W. Egan 0-2; G. Callinan, F. O’Leary, C. McCarthy 0-1 each.
Galway subs: Donal Barry for A Cullinane, half-time; K Hayes, Portumna for E Lynch, 52; J Gantley for K Hayes, 55; Damian Hayes for Niall Hayes, 59; Tony Og Regan for John Lee, 62
Cork subs: Shane Murphy for Hartnett, half-time; Paudie O’Sullivam for Luke Farrell and Mark O’Sulliavns for Fintan O’Leary, 50; Aisake O hAilpín for Cian McCarthy, 64; Lorcan McLoughlin for Cunningham, 67.
Referee: D. Richardson (Limerick).