It was in the run-up to facing Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare in last year’s All-Ireland quarter- finals that Ger Loughnane’s ‘gutless’ label was infamously attached to Galway.
Fitzgerald would come to realise the error of that statement in Thurles and, 12 months on, he got a strong sense again of the spirit that resides in these Galway players.
For half an hour or so at Croke Park, Wexford hurled up a storm and asked Galway all sorts of intriguing questions. They picked off points from various angles, came out of most of the 50-50 contests with possession, and hinted that they might even go toe-to-toe with the All-Ireland favourites for the duration.
Had they done that, Fitzgerald, as much as he emphatically distanced himself from Loughnane’s remarks last July, would have been keen to test out Galway’s innards in the closing 10 or 15 minutes.
The problem was, Galway did have the stomach for this battle and by that late stage in the game, they’d all but wrapped up the win and secured just their second Leinster title.
From the 30th minute onwards, they outscored Wexford by 0-19 to 1-6 and gave an exhibition not just of point scoring but of their incredible aerial ability.
Galway, it seems, will always have their critics until their near 30-year wait for an All-Ireland ends. Even after winning the league back in spring, the question of whether it was right to have held a mini-homecoming celebration generated a degree of debate.
Eyebrows will probably be raised again if they celebrate this win though, from the outside, they look like a side with a firm focus on September.
Galway led by three points at half-time though Wexford resumed with a pep in their step. Conor McDonald had a point that was initially awarded by the umpire ruled out by Hawk-Eye and then failed to convert a penalty though Lee Chin, their totemic leader, did convert the resulting ‘65 to leave just two in it.
A crowd of 60,032 turned up for the rare provincial final meeting between the counties and Nicky English predicted on radio beforehand that Wexford fans would get their money’s worth from an entertaining encounter before eventually leaving empty handed.
That was pretty much how it turned out as Galway did a fair impression of the great Kilkenny teams of the last decade by turning the screw with a barrage of third-quarter scoring. They reeled off seven points without response between the 42nd and 50th minutes to put nine points between them.
Even Diarmuid O’Keeffe’s goal in response wasn’t going to plug that gap and five more Galway points in a row ultimately propelled them to the finish line well ahead of Wexford.
What was most impressive about Galway was their ability to dominate Wexford in the air and then use that possession to pick off points from virtually any distance or angle. During that seven-point blitz, Niall Burke, Joseph Cooney, Conor Cooney, and Padraic Mannion all made terrific fetches above their men that led to Galway points.
It was intoxicating stuff, almost primal, as Galway’s greater physical conditioning allowed them to dominate their men and put the contest to bed.
On this sort of form — and on Tipperary’s current form — Galway have the best collection of forwards in the country. Conor Cooney was man of the match and took the award by some distance despite plenty of strong performances from his colleagues. He finished with eight points, seven from play, while Canning converted 10 placed balls before being replaced late on.
It’s just Wexford’s second competitive defeat of the season having earned promotion to Division 1B of the league. That strong league campaign included a win over Galway that was huge for Wexford at the time but which Galway barely remember at this stage.
They are a side with much bigger ambitions and look primed to go on and realise them.
Daithi Burke was dominant at full-back again, holding Jack Guiney scoreless and while Canning himself didn’t score from play — his marker Matthew O’Hanlon actually outscored him — he did set up a couple of scores for those around him.
Wexford will hope the defeat hasn’t taken too much out of them. Fitzgerald buzzed on the sideline like a wasp at times, typically remonstrating with officials and cajoling his players, but his side were no match for what Galway brought to the party in the second half.
Shaun Murphy was their sweeper again and got on plenty of ball in the first half. Chin made some inspirational interventions too, particularly the 19th-minute free he boomed over after winning it himself by putting his body on the line.
It was rousing stuff and Wexford deserved that 0-11 to 0-10 lead after 30 minutes. But they were wiped out by the maroon storm from then on though as their Leinster dream died.
J. Canning (0-10, 8 frees, 1 ‘65, 1 s/l); C. Cooney (0-8, 1 free); J. Cooney (0-5); N. Burke (0-2); P. Mannion, David. Burke, S. Maloney, T. Monaghan (0-1 each).
C. McDonald (0-5, 3 frees); D. O’Keeffe (1-1); L. Chin (0-4, 2 frees, one ‘65); P. Morris, M. O’Hanlon (0-2 each), J. O’Connor, W. Devereux, C. Dunbar (0-1 each).
C. Callanan; A. Tuohy, Daithi Burke, A. Harte; P. Mannion, G. McInerney, J. Hanbury; J. Coen, David Burke (C); J. Cooney, J. Canning, J. Flynn; C. Whelan, C. Cooney, N. Burke.
T. Monaghan for Flynn (31); S. Maloney for Canning (67); G. Lally for J. Cooney (68); S. Loftus for P. Mannion (72).
M. Fanning; L. Ryan, W. Devereux, J. Breen; S. Donohoe, M. O’Hanlon, D. O’Keeffe; L. Chin (C), J. O’Connor; P. Morris, A. Nolan, C. McDonald; S. Murphy, J. Guiney, H. Kehoe.
D. Redmond for O’Connor (h/t); E. Moore for Donohoe (47); C. Dunbar for Kehoe (53); S. Tomkins for Nolan (63).
C Lyons (Cork).