And thus it came to pass. Nobody ascended from the heavens in clouds of glory at Croke Park yesterday and was immediately hailed as the Second Coming. Nobody rained down fire, pestilence, and a plague of spotted frogs on the other crowd.
Nobody went delightfully, barkingly mad for 70 minutes, hit 2-4 from play and ensured that 2017’s showpiece would go down in the annals as the Insert His Name Here Final.
All of which, as we knew beforehand, suited Galway more than it did Waterford.
Joe Canning did his bit and Galway won. Austin Gleeson didn’t manage to do his bit, never mind come within an ass’s roar of exceeding his customary quota of the spectacular, and Waterford lost.
Call it a function of one of them playing for the superior team and one of them playing for the inferior team.
Canning had the supporting cast — was a member of the supporting cast, indeed — whereas Gleeson didn’t and in the end failed to leave a Best Actor’s imprint on the proceedings. Sometimes, to paraphrase Tammy Wynette, it’s hard to be a megastar.
Feel like being critical of Gleeson? Don’t be. Or keep it reasonable and proportionate if you do. By all means feel free to wonder what the hell he was thinking of when he went back to take that free deep in his own half deep into injury-time.
This was the second-last thing he needed to be doing, and Derek McGrath should have been screaming at him to cop on and get his ass up the field. The last thing he needed to be doing was putting the free wide.
The disappointment about the incumbent hurler of the year yesterday was not that he did something silly, which had been a fear beforehand, but rather that he did hardly anything at all bar a neatly disguised pass that led to a Jamie Barron point shortly before half-time.
In theory, his lack of a defined role ought to have allowed him float to his heart’s content and thereby exert an influence.
In practice, he failed to get to the pitch of the game from early on, in notable contrast to Canning who sniped the first point inside 23 seconds, and the episode where he fielded a puckout in the 43rd minute only to be engorged by the Galway cover told a tale.
Still: Austin Gleeson is 22 and this was his first All-Ireland final. These things happen. These things happen all the time. It is only two years, remember, since Canning finished on the losing side in the final after barely touching the sliotar in the second half. And he was older and far more experienced then than Gleeson is now.
For the Déise, nothing was lost yesterday except a match.
If their effort turns out to be a first draft of the modern Waterford at Croke Park in September — if, in other words, they reach another final or two in the next five years — it will prove to have been a worthwhile exercise. Pain is the best and harshest of instructors.
Canning? He’s been doing his bit all summer, he did it again here and that was all that Galway required from him. One of Micheál Donoghue’s signal achievements has been to render the past a foreign country. Canning is no longer the Canning of the celebrated 2-12 against Cork in the 2008 qualifiers at Semple Stadium. But he doesn’t need to be because Galway are no longer the Galway of the 2008 qualifiers, or the Galway of 2012, or the Galway of 2015. That’s Donoghue’s doing.
They didn’t have a star forward yesterday. That wasn’t a problem for them. In fact, it was a boon for them because they had four forwards who landed at least two points from play apiece; a midfielder, David Burke, who landed four; and a brace of subs, Niall Burke and Jason Flynn, who chipped in two apiece.
Nobody drives the car by himself. Nobody wins unless everybody wins. Galway didn’t land a knockout blow because they didn’t need to. Instead they did what they’ve been doing throughout the campaign. They sharpened their pencil to a razor edge and pinpricked their opponents to death.
That takes some confidence. Confidence in the gameplan, confidence in the manager, confidence in oneself and the men around one.
The favourites had every reason to feel pleased at the interval and considerable grounds to feel uneasy. The game had been played largely on their terms, as evidenced by their tally of 0-14. Yet the lack of variety in their deliveries from deep had contrived to make Tadhg de Búrca one of the most influential men on the field and for all the hurling they’d done they led by only a point, having conceded two horror goals.
Eleven minutes into the second half Kevin Moran missed a handy chance to put Waterford two points up. The riposte was swift. Two points from Niall Burke, a huge Canning free and David Burke’s fourth point of the afternoon. Galway were now three up and their opponents would manage only four points in the closing quarter. They’d punched themselves out.
As if to prove that man — some men at any rate — does not need to live by goals alone, the new champions once more vanquished their foes with a barrage of barbs flighted from distance. Fourteen points in the first half, 12 points in the second half. Not quite perfect symmetry but near enough.
Talking of symmetry, by some kind of divine coincidence the man standing over the lineball on the Cusack Stand side of the field as Fergal Horgan prepared to blow the last whistle was none other than Joe Canning.
It really couldn’t have been anyone else. He hit the ball and that was that.
Stone walls and the grass, at long last, is green.