I started my hurling weekend in Semple Stadium on Saturday, and it was torture.
Not Tipperary’s fault of course, you can only massacre what’s put in front of you and they did that – Wexford were brutal – but as I headed for home I was consoled; at least there was Sunday, and the Leinster final.
Even at half-time yesterday I was still thinking along the same lines, Galway making a real match of it; by the end, however, I was back to Saturday evening and the same line of thinking – what the hell did I do to deserve this?
Galway could have made history yesterday; only two years in Leinster but already in a final, this was their opportunity to really make a statement, announce their arrival. They didn’t, they failed miserably.
I was talking to a disgruntled Galway supporter afterwards (was there any other kind?) and he said to me – “You can always depend on the Galway hurlers alright, you can depend on them to let you down with a bang!”
Please, let no-one from the west talk about a bridge too far, about having to play three hard games three weekends in a row – that’s nonsense.
These are inter-county hurlers who get the best of preparation – those two games against Offaly should have sharpened them, not worn them out. So let no-one give us that excuse.
This was a day to really show what you were made of, but not alone did this Galway team not show up, most of them went into hiding – how you can manage that in front of over 30,000 people in Croke Park I don’t know, but most of these players managed it.
A few honourable exceptions, and I’ll single out Tony Óg Regan, Shane Kavanagh and Damien Hayes, but where were the rest?
Their star men, guys like Ger Farragher, David Collins, Iarla Tannian, were very quiet, while Joe Canning was especially so. He looked to me like a guy who was sulking, not as committed to the cause as you’d expect at this level.
There was no comparison yesterday between Joe’s contribution and the contribution of the man whose mantle many hurling people expect him to take over – Henry Shefflin. On this display he’s still a long way behind Henry, in workrate, in scoring – the man remains the King, the ultimate team player.
I know it was only one game, and only their second competitive loss this year, but I have to ask – are Galway again being seriously overrated?
They brought a big crowd to Croke Park yesterday and they made themselves heard, in the first half especially; it wasn’t for lack of support that Galway failed, so what was it?
Galway failed because they didn’t do the basic things right. Why did they bring Damien Hayes, who was really troubling Noel Hickey at full-forward in the first half, out to midfield in the second half?
And what were they doing putting Joe Canning on his own up front, on Noel Hickey and Jackie Tyrell, when he wasn’t making much of an impression anyway one-to-one?
Negative tactics, conceding all that ground to Kilkenny – Galway’s plan was to run at Kilkenny, but what do they think, that the Kilkenny defenders are coming to Croke Park on Zimmer frames?
Even if that defence is creaking – and it isn’t – look at the two men Kilkenny had in midfield yesterday; Michael Rice and Michael Tennyson, two superb run-all-day athletes – think of the kind of cover they offer any defence. Galway should just have gone straight six against six up front, man to man, gone long with their puckouts with the wind, and taken on Kilkenny.
They didn’t; what Galway did in that second half was surrender, nothing else.
We’ll go to Kilkenny, and again, you have to admire them. They weren’t at their best, a lot of their bigger names not performing. Noel Hickey was very hesitant early on, and three of their top forwards – Eddie Brennan, Eoin Larkin and Martin Comerford – were well below their best.
But none of them ever stopped working, none of them ever gave up.
Those three were taken off, and their replacements, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Hogan and John Mulhall, all looked sharp, the first two getting on the scoreboard.
To summarise – a pity. Kilkenny were not at full pelt yesterday but they still won comfortably. Will they shoot 17 wides again this year? I very much doubt it.
At the start of this game I was looking at Brian Cody and I thought he was more on edge than I’d seen him for a long time; well, he can relax a little now. As I said on Saturday Kilkenny have to win only one game a month to win that five-in-a-row – they’re halfway there now, with still plenty to work on, but with plenty of time to do so before their semi-final.
Galway? We haven’t seen the end of them, but I wouldn’t be depending too much on them still being around in September.
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