Final reflections with Enda McEvoy.
How was it so tight in the end?
Perhaps it’s petty to pose such a dry, pedantic question when a 45-year famine has been ended, all the more so when Limerick were patently the better team — and by a distance — from the throw-in to the end of normal time.
Does it really matter? Does anyone on Shannonside care today? No and no, obviously. The end crowns everything.
The best way of putting it is to say that for all the cold calculus of modern hurling, all the S&C regimes and the rehydration programmes and the statisticians and the controlling of the controllables, the game has not lost the glory that is its sheer randomness.
In the final minute of normal time a man on a badly beaten team, a team that were trailing by eight points and might have been trailing by more, put the ball in the net.
In that moment everything changed and a cakewalk became a contest. Eight minutes remained, more than sufficient for battered champions to barge their way back off the ropes and, muscle memory being what it is, very nearly sneak the most improbable of draws.
In the process they redeemed and elevated what up to then for the neutral had been a horribly forgettable affair. Goals change games. It is as simple and eternal as that.
Limerick’s tús maith proved half the battle
Fears had been expressed as to how well they’d settle and whether they might be blown away by an early scoring blast from Galway. Not so. Anything but.
Aaron Gillane may have had two wides before he opened the scoring, and the challengers may have driven five wides in the first four minutes, but they were winning ball, dominating the early possession and visibly sharper, with Nickie Quaid working his puckouts smartly.
This is a long winded way of saying that John Kiely’s men hit the ground running, a sine qua non for novices on All-Ireland day.
For a while their growing piles of wides, which were as much the result of uncharacteristically bad decision making as they were of poor shooting, looked potentially ruinous. As the half wore on, however, Galway began to catch them up in that department and the interval arrived with the underdogs having registered 11 wides (and 11 scores) and the favourites 10 wides (and nine scores).
Limerick finished the half on a high with a beautifully constructed point from Seamus Flanagan, their key man up front yesterday. Darragh O’Donovan went crossfield to Dan Morrissey, who lasered a low ball down the flank for Flanagan to come out, latch onto, swing around Daithi Burke and direct between the posts.
In the cleanness of its conception and execution it was a signature Limerick Class of 2018 score. That made it 1-5 from play from their forwards. Not blinding but a good deal better than Galway’s 0-2 from play.
Four points behind at the break, the defending champions were clearly in trouble
It wasn’t so much that the gap was big, more that they’d given no indication that they were capable of turning things around and were carrying at least three forwards who could have been replaced. The second half was preceded by, bizarrely, a blast of Bowie. Let’s Dance.
But again it was Limerick who hit the dancefloor first with three points from Kyle Hayes and another from Diarmuid Byrnes.
In contrast, Galway reopened with wides from Joe Canning (from a free, to make it worse) and Johnny Coen.
Much had been made in the run-up to the final of the champions’ recent tendency to hurl in patches. The sparkling second quarter and dozy third quarter in the Leinster final replay; the second-quarter fadeout in the drawn Clare match; the yin and yang of their Semple Stadium replay display.
When their one-paced effort of the first half here was followed by more of the same on the resumption, the writing was on the wall — and throbbing in day-glo lettering after Tom Morrissey mugged Gearóid McInerney, then kept his head to swipe home the second goal. Galway needed snookers.
Galway needed goals. Not even Limerick could blow this now. Well, just about, as it turned out.
Champions die hard
For a team beaten up a stick for nearly 70 minutes it is possible — nay, compulsory — to praise Galway for their doggedness while simultaneously wondering about their training regime.
In big-picture terms, the replays against Kilkenny and Clare couldn’t have helped, yet the fact remains they played only one more match this summer than Limerick did — and it was Limerick who were by far the fresher proposition on the big day, the holy grail of every training programme.
In retrospect we can conclude that the form book didn’t lie; Galway’s scoring rate declined from 1-28 in the second Kilkenny to 1-23 (normal time) in the drawn All Ireland semi-final to 1-17 in the replay. They’d been leaking petrol for some time. This was the day the tank ran dry.
Still, it would have been easy for that last ball to be fumbled over the Limerick goalline, in which case we’d be praising Micheál Donoghue’s men for their indomitable spirit. In any event, the dual disappointment of the result and the performance notwithstanding, they came close not merely to emulating the Galway team of the 1980s but to outdoing them.
In winning back-to-back All-Irelands in 1987-88 Cyril Farrell’s side played and won five matches, among them a quarter-final against London. Yesterday Donoghue’s Galway played their ninth match in the past three months and came up a point short. It was a feat that deserves more appreciation than it will receive.
You don’t have to lose one
If nothing else, Limerick’s victory will put a temporary end to the received wisdom about having to lose one in order to win one. Such a trite cliché.
It didn’t bother Cork in 1966 or ’99 and it didn’t bother Kiely’s youngsters here. Not for the first time this summer it was the evenness of their performance — no wildly differing first halves and second halves with this crowd — that saw them through.
Once more the scoring burden was shared. Three points from the half-back line, where Declan Hannon led like a captain by storming upfield to land two rousing scores.
Two from midfield. Five of the forwards hitting the target from play, very nearly of a piece with their exploits against Kilkenny and Cork, when all six obliged. And, of course, the inevitable scoring contribution from a substitute, in this case Shane Dowling’s goal.
Granted, there were too many wides in injury time for comfort, but you can’t have everything.
The kids were alright. The kids were more than alright. Let’s dance.
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