Maybe it was the defender’s mentality in both of us but Jackie and I saw a beauty in the Galway-Kilkenny match that many of the general public didn’t.
It was raw, hard, manly stuff. I’m not saying the Munster final wasn’t but the savagery of the tackling and the ferocity of some of the hits in Croke Park wouldn’t have been out of place a couple of miles down the road in the Aviva Stadium.
The Leinster final had 12 fewer scores, including five fewer goals, but that doesn’t necessarily deny it the classic status granted to the Munster final. It was beauty in a different form.
In a strange kind of way, they’re the type of games that Brian Cody really cherishes, because they really show up the qualities he demands most in his players. There is no hiding in that battleground. Because if you don’t stand up to the fight, you’re instantly cut down by the flailing swords and thrusting spears.
You have to hand it to Cody. Again. He had his team primed and ready. He got the most out of the group. Cody used everything at his disposal to his advantage but he got help in that regard. Cody can say all he wants about only focusing on his own but I’m sure Davy Burke’s comments about Kilkenny fearing Galway was used like fresh meat to tease a pack of ravenous wolves.
Galway would be heavily disappointed with their performance but despite everything that went against them on the day — a misfiring attack, a non-functioning midfield, Joe Canning’s profligacy from placed balls — they still weren’t beaten.
And no matter what you say, any manager will draw positives from that context.
Kilkenny had to get the last three scores to secure the draw. That may seem like a blight on Galway’s performance, that they allowed Kilkenny to get a run on them, but at least they stopped the run and didn’t allow Kilkenny to breast the tape ahead of them.
When I managed Clare in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final, we deserved a draw. But we didn’t get it. Cork came at us like a steam train in the last few minutes and we couldn’t halt it.
We didn’t have the opportunity to do something about those regrets a week later but Galway have that chance now. They will know, especially the players who underperformed, that there is far more in them.
Apart from Niall Burke, none of the Galway forwards produced the goods. Joe Canning’s workrate last Sunday was not acceptable. Johnny Coen and Davy Burke were below par at midfield.
Nobody disputes Galway’s class and brilliance but they need to stop thinking that this is going to happen.
Strains of that stuff was creeping into the camp, which was reflected in Burke’s comments. They may have been taken out of context but players have just got to be absolutely ruthless in how they think about everything related to the challenges ahead. And you need to be more focused when you’re up on a pedestal as All-Ireland champions and everyone else is trying to shoot you down.
That has been one of Cody’s greatest qualities, in how he has continually kept a lid on all that hype and expectation. He ruthlessly suppresses any of it but the culture is so ingrained at this stage that players are conditioned into thinking about only one thing — the next ball.
The talent may not be as cornucopian as it once was but the culture is as strong as ever. No matter what happens this year, and whether Kilkenny win another trophy or not, the next generation is already flowering.
Look at the big games, and hardened experiences that Mossy Keoghan, Enda Morrissey, John Donnelly, Paddy Deegan, James Maher, Richie Leahy, and Luke Scanlon have been exposed to? What impact will that have on those players going forward?
You’d still expect Galway to go after Kilkenny more tomorrow. And not just their rookies either. To borrow Tomás Ó Sé’s words, Galway need to start hammering hammers. I think they should start Johnny Glynn on Pádraig Walsh and stop the Tullaroan man making these miraculous catches, and inspiring all around him in the process.
Galway need to be more clinical in every aspect of their thought process. Scoring more goals was obviously a priority after five games without a green flag last summer but there were times last Sunday when a handy point was a better option than going for goal. That might sound like a contradiction against the ruthlessness Galway need to develop but you can kill a team too by riddling them with bullets as opposed to dropping a couple of grenades into their lap.
Huge point tallies worked for Galway last year and that’s the principle they need to return to now — let’s do what works for us. If they do, I fancy Galway to win. They certainly have more room for improvement. And if they make it, they’ll take another Leinster title.
Meanwhile, Carlow and Westmeath get their shot at the big time this evening against Limerick and Wexford. The Joe McDonagh Cup was a tremendous competition, and a great success, but now comes the big step-up, and the real hard questions for Carlow and Westmeath.
Having both games at home is a big advantage because the locals will come out in force. Westmeath have a good record in Mullingar. They gave Galway a right rattle there in 2012. Netwatch Dr Cullen Park is another tight, narrow pitch, and another place capable of generating a good atmosphere.
Carlow are really buoyed up after last Sunday’s win but the whole county is on a high after the progress made by the footballers over the last two seasons. They’ll come with a gameplan to try and frustrate Limerick. So will Westmeath. They will be fully aware of how Wexford are going to set up with their sweeper and Westmeath will have planned to deal with it on their field.
Carlow and Westmeath will have a right crack at this but Limerick and Wexford have been well rested and refreshed now after three and four weeks respectively getting ready for this game.
And after both sides fell off their horses in what were effectively Munster and Leinster semi-finals against Clare and Kilkenny, they’ll both be more than keen to get back up on track this evening.
They might clip a few ditches early on because I’m sure Carlow and Westmeath will have the branches piled high. But the prize is too big for Limerick and Westmeath not to clear those hurdles and stride into next weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-finals.