Galway 0-24 Cork 2-22: So, having lost every game in the NHL Division 1A proper, Cork relegated Galway yesterday in Pearse Stadium with an exhibition of point-scoring and two goals earned via route one.
Unfair? Critics of a system which allow teams to retain their top-flight status with one play-off win may get a cursory airing on Leeside, but little more. It would have been a nightmare for the Cork team and management to face into the 2016 championship without a competitive win, and ending ahead on the scoreboard was probably more important for them yesterday than any concerns about 2017 status.
For Galway, a few questions remain unanswered, and one wonders if some of them now can ever be answered. Joe Canning showed the full palette of skills yesterday close to goal and far away, but he also committed fouls deep in his own half. Is that where Galway will maximise their return from him?
The modh direach that served Tipperary so well in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was also productive for Cork yesterday. Galway don’t lack physique anywhere on the field, but the high ball into the square continues to be an issue for them. Cork were deliberate for much of the game, building steadily from the back, but in three consecutive long deliveries into the Galway square they plundered 2-1.
If you detect a reluctance to delve into the game itself you are not wrong. It was a strange match in Pearse Stadium, oddly loose and casual at times for a relegation play-off. Beforehand, one might have presumed it would be the most pressurised hurling game of the weekend; after 20 minutes the bright sun and rate of scoring called a pitch opening to mind.
Cork started well and were 0-9 to 0-4 up inside the opening quarter, with Conor Lehane showing up well and the visitors dominant at half-back. Once Galway settled David Burke was prominent, as was his namesake Niall, but Joe Canning was restricted to frees. The Cork sideline was exercised about the relative imbalance on the free count— Galway had seven to Cork’s two in the first half—- and it was a Patrick Horgan free just before the break— Cork’s first— that had them one up at the half, 0-14 to 0-13.
Galway were better on the resumption, with Canning unerring from frees. Andy Smith and Aidan Harte gave them a good platform in the middle of the field, and when they took a three-point lead in the third quarter it looked like momentum was with them.
However, Cork then started dropping the ball into the Galway square. Seamus Harnedy, quiet all game, fielded one and squeezed home a goal with less than ten minutes left. Conor Lehane added a superb point and then, five minutes later, Harnedy broke a ball for Horgan to first-time to the net.
A Canning free cut the lead to three with time almost up, but Galway never looked like getting a goal to level matters, and Cork held out.
Galway manager Micheal Donoghue was correct afterwards in his analysis: “Ultimately, when you are playing Cork you don’t want the game to turn into a shoot-out. That is what it did. When you play that way you are going to live by the sword or die by the sword.
“They finished strong with the two goals. There were elements again that we were happy with, but this result isn’t going to define our year. We are going to push on from this. History has shown that teams that have contested the relegation battle have gone on to do well in the Championship.”
In the Cork corner, selector Pat Ryan was also being realistic: “Our issue has been consistency— when we’re tuned in and driving on there’s no problem. When we’re off half a yard we get beaten by 10 or 12 points, which is what happens at this level. If you’re off it’s a beating.
“That’s how we’ve been in a couple of league games but we were up for it today and showed what we’re capable of, but at the same time there was only a puck of a ball between the two teams.”
Lessons learned. More to come, and in the cruelest classroom.
Scorers for Galway:
J. Canning (0-13, 0-11 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline); N. Burke, C. Mannion (0-3 each); D. Burke, I. Tannian, A. Smith, C. Whelan, A. Harte, P. Brehony (0-1 each)
Scorers for Cork:
P. Horgan (1-7, 3 frees); C. Lehane (0-6); S. Harnedy (1-0); A. Cadogan (0-3); D. Kearney, B. Lawton (0-2 each); W. Egan, B. Cooper (0-1 each)
J. Skehill, P. Hoban, J. Hanbury, A. Tuohy, D. Collins, D. Burke ( c), A. Harte, D. Glennon, P. Brehony, N. Burke, J. Canning, A. Smith, C. Mannion, C. Whelan, J. Flynn.
I Tannian for Harte (blood, 17-20); I Tannian for Harte, 28; K. Hussey for Hoban, 35; C. Donnellan for Flynn, 61.
A. Nash, S. McDonnell ( c), D. Cahalane, C. O’Sullivan, C. Murphy, C. Joyce, L. McLoughlin, W. Egan, D. Kearney, B. Lawton, C. Lehane, B. Cooper, A. Cadogan, S. Harnedy, P. Horgan.
J. Cronin for Cadogan, 57; W. Leahy for Lawton, 65; K. Burke for Kearney, 70.
J. McGrath (Westmeath).
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