Ask Munster manager Liam Sheedy, who was one of the most animated people in Cusack Park: “The players love the competition and cherish the medal. Before the game I think we had only six or seven medals from this competition in the dressingroom, so we’re delighted.”
It was a decent game for about three-quarters of the 70 minutes. Given that Connacht were Galway — just not in maroon — you might have expected them to show more cohesion than their opponents, but Munster began well and improved as the half wore on.
Shane O’Sullivan and Brendan Maher were busy at midfield for Munster and Graeme Mulcahy showed up well in attack. Connacht – or can we just call them Galway? — were sluggish, leaving Munster work up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead in the first ten minutes, a long-range free from ‘keeper Anthony Nash the highlight.
Then Joe Canning started to get on the ball and Connacht began to tick. Cyrill Donnellan and Niall Healy chipped in with scores and with Munster reliant on Patrick Horgan’s accuracy with frees, the sides swapped scores until the 25th minute. That was when Mulcahy drew the Connacht cover before placing Paudie O’Sullivan near goal, and the Cork forward finished coolly at Colm Callanan’s near post.
Other highlights? Wayne McNamara’s shuddering – and legitimate – hit on Davy Glennon, and a terrific save by Nash from Donnellan, the ball rebounding up in the air for Healy to double on for a fine point.
When David Collins pointed from long range for Connacht in injury time he made the score 0-9 to 1-11 and we looked set for a entertaining second half.
Alas, it was not to be. Munster cruised ahead with a few scoring bursts, with Horgan, Cronin and Mulcahy combining well, and the men from the west fell away pretty badly. Niall Healy’s 44th-minute point for Connacht was their last score until the clock was pushing towards stoppage time.
Munster scored at will, in contrast, and though some were bread-and-butter scores, Paudie O’Sullivan’s sparkling 58th-minute point from the wing was a highlight in a game that was over as a contest long before Anthony Stapleton’s full-time whistle.
“A nice game, wasn’t it?” said Munster manager Liam Sheedy afterwards.
“It’s a difficult competition when you’re only together three times, and one of those was a match. But everyone we contacted had no problem coming along.
“We had a good game, a lovely day, the pitch was in good condition, and certainly from the time we had the players this morning they were nothing but professional.
“We’re delighted with it, absolutely. It’s a national competition, a national medal and the players cherish it.”
In the Connacht corner there weren’t as many smiles, particularly given the lengthy scoring drought of the second half. Galway are back in Allianz HL action next Sunday, after all, in the same venue. Was that misfiring attack a worry?
“It was a worry today,” said Connacht-Galway selector Mattie Kenny.
“Munster came strong in the second half and fair play to them, they were the stronger side. We were a bit flat in the second half, our hurling was a bit disjointed, but we’ll be back in training on Tuesday night and we’ll get our focus on the second round of the league next weekend.
“You’ve got to take every game on its merits. Today we’re representing Connacht and while we’re concentrating on the league this was a useful exercise also from the point of view of giving some of our younger players a run-out.”
Scorers for Munster: P Horgan 0-10 (7fs), P O’Sullivan 1-2, S Dowling (1f), P Cronin 0-3 each, G Mulcahy 0-2, A Nash (f) and S O’Sulllivan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Connacht: J Canning 0-6 (4fs, 1 65), N Healy 0-3, D Collins (0-1 65) 0-2, I Tannian, T Haran, J Cooney and C Donnellan 0-1 each.
MUNSTER: A Nash (Cork); S O’Neill (Cork), T Condon (Limerick), S Daniels (Waterford); B Bugler (Clare), M Walsh (Waterford), W McNamara (Limerick); S O’Sullivan (Waterford), B Maher (Tipperary) (capt); S Dowling (Limerick), L Corbett (Tipperary), P Cronin (Cork); G Mulcahy (Limerick), P O’Sullivan (Cork), P Horgan (Cork).
Subs: T Kenny (Cork) for B Maher (13-15, blood), E Kelly (Tipperary) for Cronin (58), T Kenny and P Maher (Tipperary) for S O’Sullivan and Dowling (62), G O’Mahony (Limerick) and C Ryan (Clare) for Corbett and McNamara (65).
CONNACHT (all Galway): C Callanan, J Coen, K Hynes, P Killeen, B Flaherty, D Collins, N Donoghue, I Tannian, A Smith, P Breheny, N Burke, C Donnellan, N Healy, J Canning, T Haran
Subs: D Glennon for Breheny (26), J Glynn for N Burke (27), J Cooney for Killeen (40), D Hayes for Haran (45), A Harte for Smith, (53)
Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).