Galway 3-15 Limerick 1-10
By Jim O'Sullivan
AT half-time in Pearse Stadium yesterday there was no certainty of the Galway hurlers finishing in front, not to mention scoring enough to gain their place in the Allianz National Hurling League final.
But, the first of three goals in a ten-minute period after the break completely changed the trend of the game and inspired a comprehensive victory which was facilitated by the dismissal of a Limerick player.
Galway manager Conor Hayes admitted that facing into the second-half his only concern was that his team would win. "No we were not doing any calculations at that stage. But, when we scored the first of the goals it released a bit of tension and the lads played with a lot more confidence," he said.
They needed a 10 point margin to guarantee their place and in the end they bettered it.
Selector Damien Quigley credited Limerick with a battling first-half display, even if the return from the attack did not match their effort.
Limerick, certainly, were far more keen and more tenacious than they were against Clare the previous Sunday. The only surprise was that it was something of a struggle for Galway to contain them.
Three times the teams were level up to the 22nd minute, with Limerick midfielder Niall Moran scoring the opening point and full-forward Eugene Cloonan taking all of Galway's scores. And, from a Limerick perspective it was notable that Peter Lawlor (a late replacement for Clem Smith) was also doing quite well.
Limerick were quite comfortable in defence, apart from the fact that TJ Ryan had difficulty in staying with Eugene Cloonan. Michael Cahill was to the forefront in the right corner and Ollie Moran was very effective at right-half.
The Galway backs weren't giving away too much either, with David Hayes strong at centre-back and Diarmuid Cloonan doing well against Eoin O'Neill.
While Limerick's forwards were getting more ball, they didn't really threaten until O'Neill started to win ball at full-forward (and later in the corner). And, he also proved a dependable free-taker close in, which the team needed when their perseverance forced Galway to foul under pressure.
Having led initially, through Niall Moran, Limerick went back in front in the 23rd minute. With the influential O'Neill making the opening, Donncha Sheehan showed good skill to win the ball and striking accurately on the run. And, their more determined play deservedly had them in front at half-time, 0-8 to 0-7.
However, that situation changed dramatically within five minutes of the resumption. First, a sweeping movement involving Eugene Cloonan and Alan Kerins resulted in Damien Hayes goaling after a mere 20 seconds. Then, a Tony Óg Regan point was followed by a Kevin Broderick goal and, to compound Limerick's difficulties, centre-forward James O'Brien was red-carded for a dangerous pull on the Galway captain Ollie Canning.
The cumulative effect was that Limerick were six points in arrears and at a distinct disadvantage.
Their position worsened further when Eugene Cloonan goaled himself in the 44th minute. Hayes, making plenty of space for himself, was the provider this time.
Inevitably, Limerick struggled for scores, with Galway using Diarmuid Cloonan as the loose man and it was a strategy which worked well for them.
Galway hurled with an increased confidence. Limerick never relaxed their effort and they were rewarded with a goal from Niall Moran, from a well-struck free twelve minutes from the end.
However, by then the outcome and Galway's place in the final was not in question.
Scorers: Galway E. Cloonan 1-8 (0-6 frees, 0-1 seventy); K. Broderick 1-2; D. Hayes 1-0; A. Kerins and A. Cullinane 0-2 each; T. Og Regan 0-1. Limerick: N. Moran 1-2 frees; E. O'Neill 0-6 (0-4 frees); D. Sheehan 0-2.
GALWAY: L. Donoghue; D. Joyce, D. Cloonan, O. Canning (capt.); D. Hardiman, D. Hayes, D. Collins; F. Healy, T. Og Regan; A. Cullinane, E. Cloonan, A. Kerins; D. Hayes, E. Cloonan, K. Broderick. Subs: M. Kerins for Forde (48th minute); R. Gantley for Healy (72nd).
LIMERICK: J. Cahill; M. Cahill, T.J. Ryan, B. Carroll; O. Moran, B. Geary, M. Foley; N. Moran, P. Lawlor; P. Tobin, J. O'Brien, S. O'Connor; J. Butler, E. O'Neill, D. Sheehan.
Subs: A. O'Shaughnessy for Butler (27th minute); C. Smith for Lawlor (44th); D. Ryan for Tobin and P. O'Reilly for Foley (28th); P. Sheehan for Geary (injured 66th).
Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).