Yesterday was a very special day for everybody in Galway — they finally got their hands on the O’Duffy Cup — and the McGrath Cup.
After years of heartache they annex two All-Ireland titles in one day. Despite very trying conditions, and it was very tough in Croke Park, the senior team bridged a 17-year gap. It wasn’t a great spectacle, there were far too many stoppages, but I hasten to add the safety of players is paramount and every call is at the discretion of the referee.
The Westerners won’t mind that it was a low-scoring affair, neither will it matter that it wasn’t pretty at times. It is all about getting the result. We had plenty of excitement all year, this was about ensuring the win.
When I heard last week this was likely to be Therese’s Maher’s final game, I felt there could be something special in Galway. The Athenry woman had been one of the greatest players never to win an All-Ireland senior medal. She burst on the scene the year after they won the All-Ireland in 1996 and has soldiered every year in between. That she was named player of the match is a fitting tribute to arguably one of the finest players ever to grace the game.
We always knew Galway had the ability and their players are every bit as good as the likes of Cork and Wexford, but there was always this fear of losing. Not anymore.
What about Kilkenny? Unbeaten all year in the championship, this final proved a step too far. Galway were nervous early on but the Cats never played with the freedom they have been accustomed to all year. They were very nervous and this experience will stand to them.
They will be bitterly disappointed with their four-point return from play. It was a struggle for a forward line that bagged 12 goals during the season. They got little space and when they did they didn’t make maximum use of it. The Galway defence hunted in packs. But Kilkenny will be back, the majority of the players still in their early 20s.
The Galway substitutions, too, made an impact. Noreen Coen came off the bench seven minutes before the break and by the half she had landed a pair of vital points. So, the hard calls were made by Tony Ward when needed.
Ward was the manager when they claimed their first title in 1996 and he returned last year. I am sure he and his backroom staff enjoyed every minute of the afternoon.
You have to hand it to them and once the intermediates got past Limerick, it felt like this might be Galway’s day.
Yesterday wasn’t about stars. Everybody had to row in. Galway trailed 0-4 to 0-2 but 1-2 before the break set them up and another brace of points at the start of the second half put them on their way.
Ailish O’Reilly impressed and although her goal should have been saved by Emma Kavanagh, it was from that moment they got the measure of their opponents.
The Noresiders kept battling and it went down to the wire. I know Galway held a five-point advantage (one of these a fortuitous free to go four points up) but because of past defeats you couldn’t be sure Galway had enough done until the third minute of injury time had played out.
So, a day to treasure for Galway and the many links between the intermediate and senior teams. Three McGrath sisters, Orlaith, Clodagh and Niamh, took home All-Ireland medals. Two Kilkenny sisters, Orla and Niamh, did likewise.
A word on Limerick and Joe Quaid’s charges in the intermediate final. They have come a long way since 2007 and should be back next year — Galway had to lose one before winning one.
And congratulations to junior champions Kildare, who proved too strong for neighbours Laois.