Anytime I get the lift down from the press box to level 2 in the Hogan Stand, I always look over at the hurling roll of honour as I make my way out through the corridor of the main exit.
I give a customary glance at 1995 and 1997 — just to make myself feel good again for a few seconds — but when I spotted no name beside 2017, I visualised Galway’s name being engraved there in early September.
There is definitely a different cut about them this year. A steel fist inside that velvet glove. The way Galway came out after half-time was just frightening. They upped the physical stakes big-time. They destroyed Wexford in the air. It was almost an attitude of, ‘Hi, we’re done with messing around here, just get out of our way now.’
Even though they were ahead at half-time by three points, there have been plenty of occasions in the past when Galway teams got spooked by the sense of hot breath on their necks from the opposition. Not yesterday.
Wexford did get up close again after Diarmuid O’Keeffe’s goal but Galway just turned around, slapped them across the pus for their insolence, and left them in their vapour trail.
That period before half-time was crucial, when Galway went from one down to three up.
Conor McDonald had a scoreable free to reduce the deficit to one but he missed and Joe Canning’s free to push Galway ahead by three was a momentum shifter.
You just felt Wexford had to be ahead at half-time, especially with how they were set up, and with Galway surely set to increase the tempo in the second half, to have a real chance of winning.
McDonald’s penalty miss in the third quarter was also decisive. I expected goalkeeper Mark Fanning to come up and rifle it, just as he had done in the league game in Pearse Stadium in February. Fanning was on his way up until Davy Fitzgerald told him to turn back.
McDonald didn’t strike it well but it was still a brilliant save from Colm Callanan. Wexford needed to score that goal to have any real chance, psychologically as much on the scoreboard.
Galway hadn’t allowed themselves to be bullied in the first half but they were still sloppy in some of the physical exchanges, where they allowed loose and ruck ball to be hoovered up by Wexford players. I’d say they got ate in the dressing room and there was a different vibe about them from the first whistle of the second half.
I felt on Saturday that if Galway were going to win, it would be by a significant margin, and that if it was a tight game, it could be Wexford. Even with some of their big names not firing up front, Galway never let it go to the wire. They didn’t create a single goal chance but they didn’t need to either. Job done. Efficiently done.
I heard Joe Canning interviewed on radio afterwards. He said that he twisted his knee on Friday night, which may have curtailed his performance yesterday, when he failed to score from play. When Joe came deep in the first half, Matthew O’Hanlon followed him down the pitch and sniped two points.
That wasn’t O’Hanlon just adapting to the circumstances either because the Wexford defence chipped in with 1-4 from play. With Shaun Murphy sitting so deep as the sweeper, and protecting the Galway goal threat, it gave the Wexford defence more of a licence to push up the field and try and get on the scoreboard.
O’Keeffe got the goal off a run from deep but Galway showed huge leadership to stem the flow afterwards, especially from some of their lesser-profile names.
Pádaic Mannion was huge at wing-back. John Hanbury was really impressive in the full-back line. Joseph Cooney had his best ever game for Galway. Conor Cooney was on a different level again.
Wexford’s big guns up front never really fired. McDonald got two good points in the first half but he was quiet afterwards. When Lee Chin made a great catch early on, you were thinking he might storm the place like he had against Kilkenny, but Galway quenched that potential blaze pretty quickly. He was totally out of the game in the second half.
Tactically, Galway were smart too on how they kept the ball away from Chin, especially through Callanan on the Galway puckout.
Other than that, tactics didn’t play too much of a part yesterday for Galway because their performance was more about manliness and attitude than following any real tactical template.
It was an attitude of stick up your hand, win your own ball, win your own battle, take on your man, and drive on.
Wexford are physically strong. They have some big men but when you matched them up with Galway yesterday, it was obvious that they are not as physically well developed yet as their opponents. Galway had more options, too, off the bench.
Those options will increase now too with the return of Cathal Mannion from injury for the All-Ireland semi-final.
Whoever they meet in that game, Galway will be fancied. That team may have momentum from having come through the qualifiers but they’re still going to have to produce something special to take down this unit.
This Galway team have the perfect blend now: Physique, power, pace, and devastating firepower.
And the emphatic manner of yesterday’s win will have lifted their confidence even more.
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