ENDA MCEVOY: The count on Galway is Strike Three. But this time they’ll deliver

Galway's Johnny Coen dejected as he misses a late point in normal time against Clare. Pic: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Is it us? Is it Galway? Is it six of one and half a dozen of the other?

In any case, do we have even the vaguest right to be critical of them? 

A team who won the county’s first All-Ireland in three decades and who, even if they’ve made it harder on themselves, remain on course for what, irrespective of the identity of the next champions, will be the most hard-earned, richly deserved All Ireland ever? 

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, Micheál Donoghue and his players will always have 2017.

On the other hand, are we not entitled to be underwhelmed by Galway’s recent oeuvre? Last year they were a big and capable team who didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or attempt to be smarter than they were. 

They played the equivalent of 10-man rugby, pragmatic and uncomplicated. 

If one of the forwards had an off-day there was always a Flynn or a Glynn to bring in, some chap who wasn’t going to be horsed out of it, with no consequent cause to reset the dials on the machine. 

They won the All-Ireland under a tight rein and they appeared to have ample scope for improvement.

All the signs being that they’d trained on, especially the signs from Kilkenny’s visit to Salthill, the upshot was that two months ago nobody — nobody — could be found to dissent from the view that they’d retain their title pulling a train, a couple of planes and an aircraft carrier. 

Lo and behold, seven days ago they drew their second game in three outings, both of them the result of coughing up a three-point lead in the dying minutes.

After 16 minutes they led Clare by 1-7 to 0-1. Potential serial champions are home and hosed from that position, even at such an early stage. 

The count on Galway is Strike Three. But this time they’ll deliver

They have nothing more taxing to do but close out the match and they do.

At half-time they led by four points, having shot 12 wides. Potential serial champions mining the same amount of possession would have shot six wides and led by 10 points. 

Again, home and hosed with nothing more to do but keep the kitchen tidy and the front door bolted. If inaccuracy is the father of bad wides, complacency is the midwife.

After 47 minutes they led by five points and with four minutes left they led by three points. Tenuous leads in hurling but, again, serial champions get the job done from there. 

Yet Galway ended up hanging on for dear life at the end of extra- time. 

The only person more relieved than they of late was Michael Ryan, who in the least surprising “surprise” of the past week made it clear that he had sensibly assured himself of an uninterrupted night’s sleep for the rest of his life.

The cases of Tipperary post-2010 and Clare post-2013 do not require revisiting. 

On the face of it — and remember, win tomorrow and they’ll take the field on August 19 as favourites — Galway can scarcely be condemned should they go the same way. 

The concern here, however, is that they’d already received their wake-up call.

The off-day against Kilkenny at Croke Park was forgivable, to an extent even desirable. Better to underperform there and get away with it than underperform in an All Ireland semi-final and not get away with it.

They atoned for it speedily and comprehensively (1-22 from play in the Leinster final replay) and that ought to have been that.

It wasn’t.

Joseph Cooney’s recession in form makes one wonder how close the MacCarthy Cup holders are to approaching the tipping point reached by teams at the height of their powers. 

Along the way the stars become superstars, the good players become stars and the good triers become good players. 

The tipping point is reached and the process reverses itself. The superstars revert to being stars, the stars revert to being good players and the good triers become weaknesses ripe for enemy exploitation.

It could be 12 months away yet. Look at Joe Canning. If his application in the first Leinster final was less than might have been expected, in his two outings in the meantime neither his input nor his output — 0-4 from play in each — has been lacking. 

Last season he was Hurler of the Year on the strength of his back catalogue. If he doesn’t win the trophy again this season it won’t be because of any dip in form.

For all the substance Clare demonstrated in punching their way off the ropes, Galway helped them. 

They’ve been on the road long enough, and have faced spare defenders often enough, to have been capable of avoiding making a hero of Colm Galvin. 

It turned out the wariness detectable around the county beforehand was well founded. Clare were something new and uncomfortably unfamiliar on the menu. 

More talented than Wexford, more fluent than Kilkenny and nothing like as predictable as they’d been during Davy’s reign.

The count on Galway is Strike Three. But this time they’ll deliver

It’s the little things, as Albert Reynolds might have said. Nearing half-time Peter Duggan put his hand up to a puckout and won it. 

In doing so he changed the course of the championship as much as Tom Morrissey changed it when putting his hand up against Kilkenny. Duggan has been Clare’s biggest discovery since 2013. 

With this one-man airfield there they can go long and early, as opposed to running around in ever-decreasing circles. 

It must be a relief for them. It’s unquestionably a relief for the viewer.

Some other observations.

Of course both semi-finals should have gone to replays at the end of normal time. These are the second-biggest fixtures in the calendar. 

They deserve more reverence and the players deserve more respect. There are grounds for sending an All-Ireland quarter-final to extra time. 

There are no grounds for sending a semi-final to extra time.

The theory that Clare prefer Croke Park to Semple Stadium isn’t new. It dates back 20 years. 

Something to the effect that the presence of Conor Clancy allowed them to play a different, tighter game in Croke Park. 

The count on Galway is Strike Three. But this time they’ll deliver

In terms of pure logic, there’s no reason why the current lot should perform better there than in Thurles. 

But if they believe they do, grand. Whatever floats the boats of consenting adults.

Threatening as Jonathan Glynn was early on last week, he finished the afternoon with 0-1 beside his name. At this stage, Galway are in danger of allowing Plan A shading into Plans B and C.

Returning to Duggan. Hurling has become no country for players of various shapes and sizes, most obviously nippy corner-forwards. 

Two of the most engaging players of the past 20 years could not possibly flourish in today’s game. Seanie McGrath would be overpowered and Joe Deane wouldn’t be able to get away from his marker. 

But the sport, as Duggan has demonstrated, still has a place for a big lump of a lad who can put up his hand and bring down the sliotar. Some ancient verities endure.

Clare hit 0-17 in the second half of normal time, the same number of scores that Galway managed in the first half against Kilkenny at Semple Stadium, 35 minutes for which they were rightly praised. 

The pendulum has swung their way.

We assume that in any given championship fixture the teams are fuelled by similar and equal hunger. That’s the case when both sides are aspirants. 

It is not always the case when one are champions and the other are challengers.

The various injury scares won’t do the holders any harm. 

Something to concentrate minds and provide them with a cause. The draw against Kilkenny, the draw last week. 

Galway are on their third strike.

This observer is prepared to give them one more chance.


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