At one stage of yesterday’s second half, I was thinking of all the misfortunes in Wembley for the Arsenal-Chelsea Community Shield, or the poor souls at Saturday’s football quarter-finals in Croke Park.
Soccer and football may be their games but when I pictured the fare on show at those matches, and the glorious drama unfolding before me and everyone else in Dublin yesterday, I wondered if all those supporters really knew what epic drama and sporting brilliance is really all about.
I will admit that at times, hurling people can be snobby. We always believe we have the best game, that our product — when played right — is superior to everyone else’s.
After yesterday though, few can argue with that perception. Can you name another sport that can create and shatter dreams like hurling can in a handful of seconds?
We have come to expect nothing less from Galway and Tipperary. There was only one point between these teams in the last two semi-finals as well. They were brilliant matches but I felt this was on another level. It was the most enthralling and thrilling match I was at since the 2014 All-Ireland final, when we were all left staring with our mouths open at a big screen as Hawkeye was about to tell us if Tipp won the match, or if it was a draw.
This had everything. There was one minute of hurling just after half-time which felt like a game between two schoolkids in the playground; see who can score the most goals. Every attack was a goal opportunity. It was crazy.
The match was so brilliant because it had the ideal contrast. The first half was a kind of chess match dogfight but I love those matches too where nobody will blink, nobody will back down. The second half then had all that stuff and everything else with it. There were brilliant scores but some of the hits were as ferocious as you’d see in an international rugby match.
Guys were getting levelled from all angles but it was manly stuff, where fellas just kept coming back for more.
It was fitting Joe Canning stood up in the manner that he did. On RTÉ Radio One, we were debating at half-time if Joe would come out for the second half. He had missed a lot of training with a knee injury and you could see the effects of that layoff. His touch and timing and accuracy was off. He had missed three scoreable frees by his standard. And then he walks off at the end with 11 points, five from play, including the fantastic winner.
John Mullane was the co-commentator while Tomás Mulcahy and myself were the studio analysts. I turned and said to Mul entering that last quarter that Galway were going to need a big last 10 minutes out of Joe. Conor Cooney and Conor Whelan had been immense but they were flagging. Niall Burke was gone off. Johnny Glynn did make an impact but I just felt Joe needed to find something big to get them over the line. And he did.
Even when he wasn’t going well, he was always tackling hard. The hit Joe put in on Michael Breen was ferocious.
Breen was coming off anyway but that hit from Joe finished him. He was nearly doubled over with pain.
There is something different about Galway this year.
You can see that no matter where you turn, especially in their defence; Gearóid McInerney, Aidan Harte, Padraic Mannion, John Hanbury. Anytime Niall O’Meara has come on in games for Tipp, he has made an impact. When he was introduced yesterday, Darren Gleeson launched the puckout straight down on top of O’Meara. Mannion more or less said: ‘Hi, there will be no impact from you today mate.’ He caught the ball and won a free. You didn’t see that from Galway players before, not in the consistent way fellas kept stepping up yesterday.
They have matured too. They didn’t let a messy goal upset them. Mannion was cleaned by Seamus Callanan two years ago but he is a different animal now. They all are. McInerney wasn’t around for that game in 2015 but he grabbed it by the throat in the second half yesterday. You thought Tipp might upset him by playing Noel McGrath at centre-forward but he took care of him. When that job was done, ‘Bonner’ Maher couldn’t break McInerney.
I was delighted for Galway. You’d feel sorry for the Tipp lads. You’d wonder did that little lull midway through the season cost them? Would a fully fit Cathal Barrett have made a difference but I don’t think that should be the tone of the day. Mick Ryan had his men ready for war and they nearly delivered.
I genuinely wondered if Tipp would be able to step up to that level, from what I saw against Clare two weeks ago, but they were. The leadership and character they showed was immense. Brendan Maher taking that late 65 off Seamie Callanan and nailing it said so much about Brendan but that bravery was a metaphor for Tipp’s courage throughout.
Mick got most of the calls right. Gleeson really justified his selection. Mickey Cahill and James Barry recovered well after shaky starts. Galway did create a raft of goal chances but if you wanted to be ultra-critical, I don’t think they are playing deep enough in attack at times. Points might be enough to beat Waterford but they will need goals to beat Cork.
There were talking points everywhere. That late free for Galway at the end, which Joe stood over from nearly below on O’Connell Street, could have been a free in for an over-carry. Even when Joe dropped it short, the instincts he showed to move to the Cusack Stand side for a possible pass was immense.
It was just a wonderful day for hurling people but yesterday reminded me how crucial it is for hurling to keep as many counties as competitive as we can. You can see in football now that it is almost Super 3s, never mind Super 8s, but hurling needs to keep working as hard as ever to produce the level of drama we have been entertained by this summer. Whatever happens now next Sunday, this is going to be a novel final.
Galway have a great chance of finally ending the famine. Micheál Donoghue has done a brilliant job but you can see too how much the players are driving this. When I was managing the Dubs and Clare, I often said to them: ‘Lads, we will guide this, we will do our level best to guide it right, but ye have to drive it’. Even playing under the great Len Gaynor and Ger Loughnane, what guidance we got. Look at the guidance Brian Cody, Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte are consistently giving with Kilkenny, Dublin and Tyrone, Eamonn Fitz below in Kerry, but the players have to drive the machine.
Galway are really driving this machine forward but both sets of players summoned the will and desire yesterday to produce an epic.
I wonder what the crew in Wembley would think?