Tribesmen pitch perfect
By Tony Considine
Who would, or could, have predicted this result?
The greatest hurling team we’ve seen blitzed in Croke Park; a result that sent shockwaves throughout the hurling, and the GAA world.
This was as complete a performance as I’ve seen from a Galway team in a long, long time and huge credit is due to Anthony Cunningham.
He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, he doesn’t get carried away.
Alongside him, Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny are good hurling men and between them they’ve moulded these talented players into a team. That’s something of a miracle, because that’s been one of the great challenges that faced any Galway manager since the days of Cyril Farrell.
Galway yesterday did a Kilkenny on Kilkenny. They hunted in packs, fought for every ball as though it was going to be the last ball they’d ever see. They hit hard, very hard, but within the rules.
What was as impressive was the movement of their forwards. Positions meant nothing, they were wherever they were most needed.
To do all of that, you’ve got to have the players, and Galway have them now. Those players also need to have the discipline and they had that also. Not one Kilkenny player won his position in the first half. Why? Because every Galway player, be he a back or a forward, took on the ball but also took on his man and delivered the ball to a man in space. That’s good play but it’s also good coaching.
The switches Galway made before throw-in worked superbly and paid rich dividends. Johnny Coen moving to corner-back added great pace to that sector and neutralised Colin Fennelly. David Collins went to wing-back, his best position while Damien Hayes worked his socks off at wing-forward.
Tony Óg Regan is established at centre-back again, Iarla Tannian was a revelation in midfield where Andy Smith had another big day also for Galway. All these moves and changes, some of them just for this game, some of them over the last few months, have worked wonders for Galway.
Where the real damage was done, though, was up front. Joe Canning was outstanding again yesterday, Conor Cooney also did well, but my man was Cyril Donnellan. I picked him out on Saturday as being in the Bonner Maher mould — he is, but he can also score and had five fantastic points yesterday.
I’m going to mention the two Burkes too; Niall Burke is the better striker but David’s work-rate is immense. Have I left anyone out? Because I shouldn’t; This was an outstanding team performance by Galway. James Skehill also did really well in goal, Kevin Hynes at full-back, Fergal Moore played a captain’s role, the stopper Niall Donoghue — on a historic day for Galway, their first Leinster title, every single one of those lads deserves to be acknowledged.
A warning for Galway though; this is a Leinster title, no mean feat considering the team they’ve dethroned, but there are bigger games ahead in this championship. I hope they manage to keep their feet on the ground now.
What happened to Kilkenny? Whatever it was, it all came together at once and affected every player on the day. The game was over at half-time, it was then just a case of salvaging pride. And they did that, which is no more than you’d expect from these lads. They won the second half, 2-7 to 0-9, and that will be of some consolation to them, proving that there is life left in them. But they were a well-beaten docket overall yesterday.
I have to say also, they’ve been gracious in victory on so many occasions over the last all-conquering 12 years but yesterday they were equally gracious in defeat. They hurled to the end, didn’t resort to dirt, they stayed on the pitch for the presentation, to a man.
Sportsmen of the highest quality, all the more reason to admire them, the example set by the man at the top, Brian Cody.
Are they gone? That’s the question everyone will be asking now. They have a few big players to come back — JJ Delaney, sorely missed yesterday, likewise Michael Fennelly in midfield, a full game to be had from Michael Rice. And they did have a lot of injuries coming into this game, several players who had been unable to train for the past few weeks but typical Kilkenny, not offered as excuse either before or after this loss — I only learned about it in conversation with a few Kilkenny supporters afterwards.
To go back to the question though — are they gone? I wouldn’t write them off just yet but definitely the fat lady is warming up her tonsils. If they get over their next match they could be meeting Tipperary, if they win in Munster — you think Kilkenny wouldn’t be motivated for that? With the possibility of meeting Galway again, in an All-Ireland final? If all that comes to pass, then by God that would be one game I would not want to miss.
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