GALWAY’S excellence on the national minor hurling stage manifested itself once more in yesterday’s ESB All-Ireland MHC final.
Stung by the events of last year’s decider when they were mugged late on by Kilkenny, Galway seized on the opportunity to exact revenge.
They were worthy winners, illustrating their hurling prowess when unleashing a devastating second quarter display that was pivotal to their success. But they displayed mental fortitude as well, staying in the ascendancy in gritty fashion and never allowing themselves to be spooked by a brave and powerful second-half revival by Kilkenny.
Mattie Murphy’s love affair with this grade continues to endure as Richie Cummins became the fifth Galway minor captain to lift the Irish Press Cup under Murphy’s supervision. His glittering legacy as a minor coach is now enshrined, as his run of victories stretches back to his maiden triumph in 1992.
The input of Murphy and his selectors to this latest success cannot be underestimated as they made shrewd calls that helped to shape the match.
All summer, Kilkenny’s attacking duo Sean Kehoe and Walter Walsh have inflicted havoc on opposition defences but here they were stifled.
Galway were clearly aware of their offensive capabilities and full-back Daithí Burke kept a tight rein on Walsh. Outside him left half-back Joseph Cooney may be stationed in a different sector to where his father Joe starred in the maroon, but he demonstrated his effectiveness in stymieing the threat of Kehoe.
Both Walsh and Kehoe were withdrawn from the action by Kilkenny boss Richie Mulrooney and having restricted that pair to a point apiece from play, Galway had made major progress on the road to success.
The other key sideline call came near the end when the match had become fraught with tension as Kilkenny stormed back into contention.
Galway’s centre-forward Niall Burke, who impressed in open play, had endured a tough second- half in his placed ball duties as he struggled to calibrate his shooting in the adverse weather conditions.
Murphy shifted the freetaking responsibility over to 16 year-old Shane Maloney and despite his tender years, the Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry youngster thrived under the pressure. He showed commendable nerve to convert a difficult 51st minute free and then trotted out to loft over a ‘65 four minutes later.
Those scores pushed Galway 2-13 to 2-10 ahead and having emerged from a rocky period to be still in the ascendancy, they never looked like being beaten thereafter.
After the opening stages of the match, Kilkenny’s hopes of glory were very much intact. They led 1-5 to 1-4 after nine minutes and looked suitably equipped to match the challenge of the Westerners. Those early passages were quite sensational due to the machine-gun manner in which the scores were fired out. The relentless fashion in which the sky over Croke Park was emptying its contents had threatened to derail the game, but both sets of players adjusted brilliantly to the saturated conditions from the off.
They conjured up a combined 11 scores from 11 shots in that opening period with the marksmanship simply superb. Wing-forwards Donie Fox and Jason Grealish clipped over beautiful shots for Galway, while Kilkenny were grateful to Cathal Kenny and Cillian Buckley for supplying excellent points.
Galway grabbed the first goal in the 6th minute, when Richie Cummins showed a poacher’s instinct to position himself to collect the rebound when Ronan Badger’s shot was saved and deposit it into the net. Three minutes later Kilkenny netted themselves, Martin Gaffney finishing clinically after a strong, thrusting run forward by Buckley.
The template had been set for a struggle that would be tight and taut, yet Galway rose to the occasion to erase such prospects.
Burke, Brian Flaherty and Cooney grew in stature in defence to the extent that Kilkenny failed to score for the remainder of the half. Midfielder Davy Glennon was a ball of energy and they posted the necessary scores up front.
Niall Burke split the posts from dead balls on four occasions, Grealish notched another before they struck for a game-breaking goal on the cusp of the interval. Shane Maloney did all the spade work on the left wing and when he stepped inside, he squared unselfishly for Cummins to strike to the net.
A 2-9 to 1-5 deficit was an arduous task for Kilkenny to try and retrieve, but they emerged powerfully in the second-half to bombard Galway early on with waves of pressure.
Gaffney tapped over an early free, Ollie Walsh knifed through for a 38th minute point but the real fillip came in the 41st minute after a dashing 45-yard run by Buckley culminated in an assured strike to the net. Canice Maher maintained the momentum with a lovely point and Kilkenny were within one of Galway.
But the challenge of gaining parity proved too great for them. Donie Fox lofted over a brilliant score to settle Galway in the 42nd minute and a trend started of Kilkenny points reducing the deficit to one, before Galway moved two ahead again.
Gaffney did have a golden chance in the 50th minute to level it up, but he skewed a free horribly wide.
Galway latched onto that opening to generate a powerful closing period with Glennon, Maloney and Flaherty all showing great leadership. When substitute Tadhg Haran found the range in the 61st minute, they were four points clear and their victory was copper-fastened.
Scorers for Galway: R Cummins 2-1, N Burke 0-4 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘65), S Moloney 0-3 (0-1f, 0-1 ‘65) J Grealish, D Glennon, D Fox 0-2 each, T Haran 0-1.
Scorers for Kilkenny: M Gaffney 1-3 (0-3f), C Buckley 1-2, C Kenny 0-2, S Kehoe, W Walsh, O Walsh, C Maher 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: M Horan for Cooney (21), T Haran for Badger (46), N Keary for Grealish (53).
Subs for Kilkenny: S Phelan for Kehoe (half-time), G Aylward for Walsh (52), P Walsh for Brennan (57).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).