We’ll get to the game itself, a claustrophobic grapple to put you in mind of a crocodile trying to drown a water buffalo, but there’s only one starting point for discussing yesterday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final, writes Michael Moynihan.
Joe Canning’s towering score to win the game for Galway from the sideline under the Cusack Stand.
He got his shot away with Tipperary men approaching from every direction and, with the benefit of cold reflection on the angle and the distance, was it a low-percentage shot?
Not when you have Canning’s repertoire, the roar from the Cusack seats in line with his shot telling you it was true. That made it 0-22 to 1-18, and the 68,184 in attendance were able to exhale at last with the relief.
His manager Micheál Donoghue was understandably proud of his game-winner.
“When you come out of a game like that, winning by a point, as I said, when he gets a ball in that position you know there’s a great chance it’s going to go over.
“In big games like that, big moments are defined by your big players, and he really stood up to the mark on it.”
The opposing manager was gracious in his assessment.
“What a fantastic score Joe Canning pulled off towards the end,” said Tipp boss Michael Ryan.
“I thought it was outstanding, to be honest.
“He’s a heartbreaker, but it’s not his first time.”
Canning’s display embodied Galway’s day. He was relatively peripheral in the first half, with Donoghue admitting that he and his selectors were trying to get him into the game, but he finished well.
Perhaps the five-week lay-off since the Leinster final was a factor, as general rust stained Galway’s play. They had three clear goal chances but weren’t clinical enough to convert any; one would have given them some comfort down the home straight.
As the game rolled on, neither side could seize the momentum until Canning’s match-winner. The difference between Limerick in April, and the league final Galway won by 16 points, and Croke Park in August wasn’t marked in terms of the weather, but in the exchanges there was no comparison. Tipperary’s increased appetite for work was embodied, as it usually is, by Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, whose commitment to an early turnover was too much for his trademark white helmet. He played on in blue headgear, which may have been a bad omen.
If you spent the last few weeks in a sensory deprivation tank word probably still filtered through about the Tipperary full-back line, and the general concerns about same.
Yet Galway’s last line seemed the more timorous at times yesterday. Adrian Tuohy in the corner looked occasionally as if he were carrying an injury, and Tipperary got the only goal of the game.
When Seamus Callanan wheeled away towards the left wing and shot on 22 minutes it looked an easy point, but the Tipperary man mishit the ball, which rolled into the no-man’s-land which gives goalkeepers sleepless nights. Stay or go? Stick or twist?
Colm Callanan twisted, coming off his line to deal with the situation, but the ball squirted loose and John McGrath went in where it hurt to burgle possession, shooting from the ground to find the net. The same player availed of another defensive mix-up minutes later to come down the end line with goal in mind, but Galway survived that onslaught, just about.
Galway coughed up another chance when when Daithí Burke lost his footing chasing a treacherous crossfield ball. Seamus Callanan was foiled by Colm Callanan’s speed off his goal-line in the best namesake battle since Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep co-starred all those years ago.
Tipperary were a point ahead at the break, but Joseph Cooney levelled matters seconds after the resumption. Galway’s advantage in physique was underlined by the growing influence of Joseph Cooney’s power, and bringing on Jason Flynn and Jonathan Glynn seemed a bid for the biggest forward line ever seen in Croke Park.
Tipp’s defence survived, however, and Johns McGrath and O’Dwyer came into the game even as Seamus Callanan, who shipped a heavy second-half knock, missed some key placed balls.
The slickness Tipperary sometimes showed up front, particularly the understanding built up in the McGrath back garden long ago, looked likely to produce a goal but the green flag never came. The same at the other end, where Jason Flynn and Joe Canning both came close to finding the net. Everyone was making advanced plans for next Saturday evening’s replay when Canning decided to hit that winner.
The westerners will have reason to be pleased with some aspects of their game-plan. They kept Tipp talisman Pádraic Maher away from the ball for the opening 10 minutes, and enjoyed success with targeting Joseph Cooney from puck-outs.
They also shook off that rust to get to the pitch of the game, the obvious example being Conor Whelan’s lung-bursting run towards the end to put in a game-turning hook on Mickey Cahill. The Galway man’s four points from play wouldn’t have counted for much if he hadn’t put in his defensive shift when it counted.
For Tipperary, a promising year ended with ashes. Michael Ryan gave an honest assessment at the final whistle when asked if Tipperary had played really well at any stage this year: “I think we got close on occasions. Credit to opposition, too, let’s talk about this game here. I thought that is a really, really good Galway team.
“I thought the match-ups and advantages that we dealt with - really and truly, there was nothing in it. If you look back over the last couple of years, that is exactly the margin that has been in it, whether to our advantage or not.”
Micheál Donoghue may find himself agreeing with Flaubert’s old line about the future being the worst thing about the present. Galway will be expected to improve again for next month’s All-Ireland final now they’ve managed to overcome that long lay-off since the Leinster final.
“We went away to a training camp in Fota Island the weekend of the quarter-finals,” said Donoghue yesterday of that break.
“We had an internal game and the challenge to the lads was could we get to the intensity in an internal game of what we’d see later [that day] in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“We were happy enough with the intensity of it but it still doesn’t replicate a full championship match. I think it took us 10 or 15 minutes to get into the stride of it.
“At half-time we were comfortable enough where we were. I thought we were going to grow into the game, and we knew we’d finish strong.”
That they did. Screenwriters say a movie audience should leave with at least three good memories from a film; yesterday’s immortal winner will bathe the rest of a tight, hard encounter in the sepia tones of a classic, though that would be a pretty generous ranking.
Give the match-winner the exit line, then.
“If Johnny didn’t turn around . . . I was just lucky it went over,” said Canning himself.
“A couple of years ago against Waterford I had the same thing to draw the match, and I missed it, so it’s nice when it comes off on a day like today.
“You’re just trying to get the strike. To be honest, it could have gone anywhere.”
It didn’t, though. Galway book the hotel for September.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.