Come to think of it, this is something we literally didn’t learn because we knew it already, but let’s not split hairs. You were advised here two days ago to keep next Saturday free. It won’t come to that but it very nearly did. For the third year in a row, a point was all that separated this pair at the penultimate stage. Yet again it was a gripping encounter and yet again it went right to the wire. Injury time lasted for four-and-a-half minutes and saw three scores. It nearly saw a fourth except John O’Dwyer couldn’t quite get his radar right and he put his shot wide at the far upright at the Davin End. So the rubber ends, for now at any rate, with Galway 2-1 ahead. Judging the matter on the contours of the three All-Ireland semi-finals it’s an apposite outcome. In the 2015 semi-final they were clearly the better team only for Seamus Callanan’s genius to keep Tipperary in it. Twelve months ago Tipp were the better team, albeit not by much. Here Micheál Donoghue’s charges were on top for most of the game bar the ten minutes approaching half-time and always appeared to have a little in hand. Tipp may or may not take some consolation from the substance they showed in defeat. But they’re entitled to.
Two years ago, following Galway’s defeat by Kilkenny in a notably anaemic decider, a school of thought arose and began to preach that Joe Canning would probably finish his career without an All-Ireland medal. Nobody ever doubted the Portumna man’s talents. No hurler in living memory, indeed, had emerged from the underage arena trailing such clouds of glory. But the likelihood of him leading his county back to the Promised Land, or even being part of a Galway team that would reach said destination, was receding by the season. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. For 54 minutes yesterday, Conor Whelan was the challengers’ most dangerous attacker. Canning, in contrast, had missed three chances of points within the opening 12 minutes. With 15 minutes left, however, he landed a mighty point off his left after the magnificent Gearoid McInerney had carried the ball out of defence. Eight minutes later he found the range from play from the Cusack Stand side and in the third minute of injury time he rifled the winner. Canning has had days in the maroon and white where he’s been just another Indian. Yesterday he was the big chief.
Not as asinine a statement as it may sound; sometimes the losing team racks up a perfectly acceptable total only to blow the game through bad defending. Here the MacCarthy Cup holders held their opponents to 0-22, a respectable tally but scarcely daunting. The problem was that a team that hit 1-26 versus Cork and 0-28 against Clare, not to mention their 2-29 last September, failed to break the 20-point barrier. Callanan was off his game, even if the goal accrued from a shot he mishit, and his failure from two 65s in the second half will be rued at length in the homes of Tipperary over the coming months. Nor did Michael Ryan have the men on the bench to tilt the balance.
Waterford. OK they have other business to take care of this week. But in their heart of hearts the vision of Tipperary in an All-Ireland final would not have been an appealing one. Galway, on the other hand, have never beaten Waterford in the championship. As for Cork, one imagines they couldn’t care less who they might meet on the first Sunday of next month: Galway, Tipperary, Real Madrid, the All Blacks, whoever.
Proceedings at Croke Park began at midday with the inaugural All-Ireland U17 competition final. A high-class affair it turned out to be as well, with John Considine’s Cork winning by 1-19 to 1-17 after leading by a point (1-9 to 1-8) at the break. The extent to which the county had got their act together in the underage sphere has become a talking point in the last couple of years and yesterday’s victory — the first national triumph at Croke Park by teenage Corkonians since the 2001 All-Ireland decider — offered tangible proof of the rising tide.