For now, Galway’s dance card is blank. Their holding off of Tipp last weekend demonstrated a steeliness and resolve that bodes well for their All-Ireland hopes.
They’ve proved they’re not easily rattled — not by playing the All-Ireland champions, or by favourites tags, or by conceding early goals.
Not after coming through these last three semi-finals with Tipp — what Micheál Donoghue was already, in a self-aware post-match interview, referring to as ‘the trilogy’.
This latest episode was a tense, brittle, visceral sort of match, full of snatched scores, near misses, and desperate tussles for the ball.
There was never a sense of flow as such — the effort and desire displayed by both teams was what lent the match its sheen.
For Tipp, the back-to-back All-Irelands dream rolls over for another season or two. Over the winter, there will be much analysis of what it takes to pull off this feat that Kilkenny made look routine. It’s not just about having the players or the desire — it’s a complex chemistry of luck, resolve, and near-flawless decision-making.
The disparity in the free count aside — can it really be said, in what was a physical but clean game, that Tipp fouled twice as much as Galway? — Tipperary can have few complaints. They had ample scoring opportunities to win the game, but their conservatism in front of goal backfired.
All too often, they opted to play the simple ground ball, to ‘make sure of it’, rather than risk anything flashier. Much has been made of Callanan uncharacteristically missing 65s at crucial stages, but had the Tipp finishing been a bit more adventurous, those wides wouldn’t have been relevant.
As a Tipp fan, there were things to cheer even in defeat. At times, Tipp were composed and clinical, pinballing the sliotar from player to player to set up Noel McGrath’s crucial point in the 58th minute.
John McGrath showed incredible instinct to flick the ball into his own path for Tipp’s goal. Callanan got blocked down twice in the first half and both times regathered the ball to convert; a great teachable moment for calmness under pressure.
The work-rate was the best it’s been all year, characterised by Dan McCormack and Brendan Maher’s gutsiness at midfield and Bubbles’ tireless ball-hunting. The goalie and full-back line held solid and kept a clean sheet, despite being tormented by Conors Whelan and Cooney. In all, eight players scored.
No wonder Michael Ryan sounded relatively upbeat after the match, praising the thrilling nature of the game, which says it all about his philosophical and panoramic outlook on hurling.
A heartbreaker, was what he called Joe Canning. Accurate enough. For Tipp fans, there’s a certain comfort in knowing it took a moment of Joe Canning magic — a snapped shot from the sideline as Tipp men swarmed towards him — to put Tipp out of the championship. But then, we’ve come to expect this sort of thing from Joe. Just another casual Canning miracle.
As Lar Corbett pointed out on The Marty Squad after the game, we expect far too much from Joe. We don’t treat him as we do other players.
Were he anyone else, his last 10 minutes alone would have made him a shoo-in for Man of the Match; because he’s Joe, he’s penalised for his patchy first half and not even shortlisted.
Not that Joe cares about Man of the Match awards; he’s got more than enough lumps of crystal already, but a certain medal is conspicuous in its absence. He could probably do without the destiny narrative that we all impose on him, too — sure wasn’t he born in the year Galway last won an All-Ireland? — but on the other hand, there isn’t a hurling person alive who wouldn’t like to see him climb those hallowed Hogan Stand steps.
Regardless of whether they’ll be facing Cork or Waterford, Galway will go into the final favourites. Their confidence will be sky-high after the Tipp match, their only niggle being that they haven’t scored a goal in a while — not since the Dublin match back in May, to be exact.
Many of these players have big-day experience from 2015 and 2012, which will also stand to them. The historical weight of trying to bridge the gap since their last All-Ireland win might daunt them, but the same would apply to Waterford, who have to go all the way back to 1959. The only team left who might be relatively carefree in this regard is Cork.
Sunday’s rematch of the Munster semi-final will by no means be a retread. Waterford won’t be same team Cork beat in June, not least because they’ll be missing their go-to sweeper. It will be interesting to see what workaround they’ll come up with to deal with Tadhg de Búrca’s absence.
Will they abandon their usual setup and go 15 on 15, which would delight certain commentators? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Appeasing the aesthetic concerns of traditionalists won’t be high on Derek McGrath’s list of priorities, and Darragh Fives would be a good option to slot into de Búrca’s role.
Having beaten Wexford and (especially) Kilkenny, Waterford’s confidence will be in the ascendant. If their big players bring it — in particular Brick Walsh and Austin Gleeson, the two bookends of the forward line — they’ll have a real chance of getting to their first final since 2008.
But Cork, who’ve played some of the most joyous hurling on display in the championship so far, have to be favourites.
Just like Galway, they’re dealing with a five-week layoff since their provincial final; just like Galway, I doubt it’ll bother them much.
Nor will the prospect of facing Waterford again, or the slightly surreal feeling that they’re still trying to break out of Munster, despite being Munster champions.
With young players like Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, and Mark Coleman flourishing, more experienced (but still astonishingly young) guns like Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane having the season of their lives, and Anthony Nash able to put the ball in the hand of just about any of them — Waterford will have their work cut out.
And so, I imagine, will Galway in three weeks’ time.
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