No holding back as Coen gets first crack at Kilkenny

It’s gone down as one of the greatest goals of all time.

All-Ireland semi-final of 1983, Jimmy Barry-Murphy is caught out of position behind Galway full-back Conor Hayes as they both move to a low incoming rocket from Cork midfielder John Fenton. Conor is in two minds — catch the bullet or just bat it. Jimmy has no such luxury; using his lightning turn of foot, he gets back almost to Conor’s shoulder, using his lighting wrists, superb eye and perfect timing, he does the only thing he can do and ‘doubles’ on the ball.

Miraculously, it comes off, the ball flies past the young Galway keeper, the great Michael O’Hehir flies into ecstasy in the commentary box. “One of the greatest goals of all time,” he proclaims, rightly as it transpires. “This is one you’d want to see in slow motion, but the slow motion won’t even slow it down!”

The Galway keeper? Tommy Coen, a youngster barely out of U21. Shortly afterwards, however, it was all over for the unfortunate Tommy. His son, Johnny, takes up the tale.

“He got an eye-injury at 21 or 22 years of age. He was involved with a camogie team in college in UL, got a lash into the eye one evening when he was training them — he’s down to one eye now.

“Such a shame really, you’re really enjoying your hurling then suddenly it all slips away.”

On September 9, Galway will meet Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior hurling final. All going to plan, corner-back on that Galway team will be Johnny Coen. Tomorrow, however, in Thurles, it’s another Galway/Kilkenny meeting, the All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final. In light of the above it would be understandable if Johnny were mindful of himself tomorrow.

“You’re never going out thinking about yourself. Ultimately it’s about the team and if the team wins everyone is happy. Our performance will need to be 100%. We can’t be sparing ourselves, there’ll be huge intensity. If you hold back, you might get hurt.”

Against Kilkenny, particularly, you are well advised not to stand back. It’s a hurting Kilkenny team, and we witnessed the latest example last Sunday in Croke Park of what a hurting Kilkenny hurling team can do to you.

First off there’s payback for the All-Ireland minor final loss of three years ago, Galway winning a tight game 2-15 to 2-11. Then there’s the fact that as reigning All-Ireland U21 champions Galway are the target. Finally there’s the fact the Galway team is chockful of senior panellists and being talked up, while Kilkenny have just three of the senior panel from last Sunday.

“Kilkenny being Kilkenny you can never underestimate them. We’re under no illusions. There’s a huge task ahead of us.”

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