Another September. Dreams fled away, as Thomas Kinsella used to say.
Not in Ahascragh or Gort or similar stations in the west, however. Nobody blinking awake in the hurling outposts of Galway this morning would agree with Kinsella’s cold evaluation of dreams in the lunar light of dawn.
Yesterday Galway shrugged off 29 years of disappointment to motor past Waterford for the All-Ireland senior hurling title on an emotional day in Croke Park.
The final scoreline was 0-26 to 2-17, and Waterford were knocking on the door for that equalising goal deep in injury-time, but Galway were the better side. Better yesterday and, truth be told, better all year. Their brawny dismissal of Tipperary in the national league final was a fair warning, one they have followed up ruthlessly as spring rolled into summer and beckoned in autumn.
For the men from the southeast glory still remains locked inside a dream with iron gates, though the maroon and white’s incremental progress, and lessons from previous final defeats, offers them a template for the future.
The Galway manager certainly paid tribute to his men’s experience.
“Preparation from the semi-final to today couldn’t have gone any better for us,” said Micheál Donoghue.
“I said it the last number of weeks to the lads, their experience was shining through. And I said it for the last couple of months, I am in a privileged position here today, being the manager. It would be very remiss of me not to mention all the previous managers that have gone before me, that have helped nurture and develop these players.
“And it is similar for the players, who have represented Galway since 1988 and particularly in the last few years, some great players have gone through. It has been a huge collective effort, but the squad we have presently, we have been saying it for the last couple of months, since the Wexford game, these boys have taken huge ownership. They have been questioned and doubted so many times, even in the build-up to the game, there were still references that they were chokers.”
Not so yesterday. Galway started like a side speckled with men who’d seen action in three All-Ireland finals already, with six points in seven minutes; Waterford were just a point behind after 10, though, thanks largely to a superb Kevin Moran goal, the midfielder beating Colm Callanan on his near side.
One of the most barnacle-encrusted metrics in Gaelic games is the team which is getting its scores easier. Conor Cooney’s 13th-minute point — off the stick, on the turn — was the best example of this in the first half.
In reviewing the way the game went Waterford won’t be happy with the number of Galway points scored without the striker facing so much as a tackle, but both sides had reason for discomfort as the game played out.
For instance, Galway defended comfortably for long stretches: Tadhg de Burca cleared a lot of ball for Waterford but into traffic, Galway repaying with interest down the field, often through Aidan Harte.
Yet Waterford were level on 22 minutes, for all that, Shane Bennett in where it hurts for the touch that yielded their second goal. Either that or Kieran Bennett’s delivery hopped all the way in. Whatever way it happened, made in Ballysaggart.
At half-time Galway led by one, 0-14 to 2-7, and the game seemed more open on the resumption, the lead see-sawing between the two sides, point and point in turn until the final 10 minutes, when there was still just one between them.
Waterford hit a poor wide and then Galway knocked over three points on the bounce. Game over? It was. We just didn’t know it.
In response to Galway edging ahead by four, Waterford hit a sequence of four wides that will ruffle many a sleep over the winter in the southeast. Perhaps Donoghue’s reference to experience counts for more than just considered preparation: When the chances came Galway took them, hitting 20 points from play and just six wides. Any time and motion supervisor would take that as evidence of smooth efficiency.
“In the first seven or eight minutes Galway seemed to be more fluent,” said Waterford boss Derek McGrath afterwards.
“We got a goal against the head, against the run of play, and that steadied us. I thought we were chasing it for much of the first half but we settled in before half-time.
“Everything Galway hit seemed to go over, I’m not sure of the wide count but it seemed to be a bit easier for them that it was for us.
“Obviously we’re hugely disappointed but the overriding emotion is one of pride in our lads. There was no capitulation, no sense of throwing in the towel. The resilience shown was incredible. I was never as proud of them.”
McGrath wouldn’t be drawn on referee Fergal Horgan’s display, which seemed to oscillate between officiousness at some stages, and mere observation of the proceedings at others. The physical exchanges favoured Galway, whose Himalayan size and strength gave them a marked advantage.
Tactically the game was surprising: Though their spare men picked up plenty of loose ball Galway leaked two goals they might regard as softish and Maurice Shanahan had half a smell of another chance early in the second half.
Waterford’s spare man, Tadhg de Burca, often had to go high and long with his deliveries, which suited players like Gearóid McInerney. In addition, four of those 20 points from play came from David Burke driving through to make an extra man in the attack, by-passing Waterford’s extra body.
The same player made a lengthy speech when accepting the Liam MacCarthy Cup, but nobody in Croke Park was complaining.
Burke remembered the sponsors and the many members of the backroom team, but he paid an emotional tribute to team-mate Niall Donoghue, who passed away a couple of years ago, as well.
In name-checking mental health charity Pieta House from the steps of the Hogan Stand Burke showed huge class and a 21st-century sensitivity.
Though not as long a famine as Waterford’s, the long wait in the west has had plenty of miseries and close calls along the way as well.
The old Latin proverb about there being no palm without the dust has been proven over and over again for the followers of the Tribesmen.
For Waterford, the words of Pat Fanning resound still: The tradition of keeping going. The lessons learned yesterday in Dublin 3 will be applied again next spring.
A hurling season of novelty and innovation wound down yesterday with terrific champions and runners-up who went out on their shields, and it was good that the late Tony Keady was remembered on the first Sunday in September, a date he graced so often, by both David Burke and Derek McGrath.
In the video tribute to Keady played at half-time in Croke Park there was footage of the great centre-back laughing.
“We had good days,” Keady was saying. “We had great days.”
They had. And another one yesterday.
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