All-Ireland win ‘inches away’ for Galway, says Anthony Cunningham

In the end, the gap was four points.

It may well have been 14 such was Kilkenny’s dominance in that second-half and yet Anthony Cunningham saw it differently. It is 27 years since their last All-Ireland, but the Galway manager insists this bunch of players remains “inches” from bridging that gap.

They were certainly more than halfway across at the interval yesterday.

Galway had absorbed the concession of what was a cruel goal, just as they had on three separate occasions against Tipperary in the semi-final, and yet they still held a three-point lead at the break. If anything it was an insufficient reward for their efforts.

“We probably could have been more ahead, but you are playing Kilkenny. We had an outstanding first-half and deserved to be three up. Could have been more, but I don’t think that was the winning or losing of the game. But as time went on we panicked a bit and had a few bad wides.

“That is extremely hard to get better at, but it is something we have got to get better at. It is within our grasp to win an All-Ireland. We are within inches of it, but it is how we react from it. We have been here before and it took us a couple of years more than we wanted to get back here.

“But, all in all, we have to keep working. We got huge experience again at the top end of the championship. A day like today is when you only get to witness that.

“That is what we will strive to get back to. I have no doubt that these players will work hard and they will get there.

“We are just hoping it will be sooner rather than later.” Therein lies the rub. This was their sixth stab at a September coronation since 1988 and each failed attempt has spawned at least two years of recriminations, transitions and stunted summers.

It took them all of eight years to breach August again after their loss to Kilkenny in 1993.

Cunningham knows what it takes to hike this far again. Their replayed final loss to Brian Cody’s side three years ago gave birth to hopes that they could turn it around within 12 months for another stab at the prize. Instead, it took until now.

Will 2016 be any different?

“It is a massive challenge,” Cunningham admitted. “It is something we have already spoken about in the dressing-room.

“If we stay at the same level we won’t be back here. So we have got to work harder and get better, but with the amount of players we have it is definitely within our grasp to do that.

“A huge amount of that is down to the players. I have no doubt that the system and professional(ism) we have is as good as what has ever been there or will ever. Players have to kick on, but the way they have worked so hard to drive on; that is there. So I would be very surprised if we don’t kick on.”

There were more than a few who suggested that they were prevented from doing just that yesterday with the decisions of referee James Owens, awarded in the white heat of the here and now, held dispassionately and clinically aloft in the cold light of the aftermath.

Galway had benefited from his leniency near the end of the first period when Johnny Coen was allowed remain in situ after yanking Colin Fennelly around by the neck, but there was a sense that they repaid the debt with some difficult to swallow decisions on the turnaround.

“James Owens overall had a fine game, but some of the decisions at the start of the half ... I’m sure when he sits back and looks at it he will be the first to agree that there a few calls that didn’t go our way and probably could have and should have. But that’s hurling.

“And parallel to that, we had a few points that we should have got, unforced errors really, to narrow the gap. They probably went a bit more defensive in the second-half and that coupled with unforced errors from us. And a couple of decisions against us.” That seems fair enough.

Galway simply didn’t earn the rub of the green or the bounce of the ball in that second 35 minutes.

Cunningham was man enough to congratulate a team of “massive hurling and massive hurlers” and one that squeezed the life from them and the game when it was there to be won.

“They are huge strong men. We have a lot of strong men too, but we are probably younger in years.

“Their half-forward line played deep as well as times. They were picking off their scores. They got a bit of help too at the start of the second half.

“Cyril Donnellan was through on goals there. There was a 65 that wasn’t given. That is two points. There was four in it at the finish. We missed a few chances. We were chasing it. Conor Whelan had a goal chance. If I name names, there is no fault to any player.”

He was right in that. All-Irelands are won by collectives, not lost by individuals.

Kilkenny are proof of that.

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