As the all-Galway Connacht team took the field in sunny Nowlan Park for this M Donnelly Interprovincial Championship hurling final yesterday, they passed under a sign in their dressing-room which stated, in bold red lettering, win, win, win.
Just over half an hour later, after a truly tame first half, they trailed by 11 points, 2-13 to 0-8, and what should have been a decent contest was effectively all over.
So what happened? Did they even notice that sign?
“We’re very disappointed with the way we came out of the blocks,” was captain Fergal Moore’s admission.
“We gave Leinster too big a head start and with the collection of players they have, to do that was fatal.”
Manning the pivotal centre-back position, Fergal wasn’t excusing himself either in that assessment. “The way we stood off them in the middle third of the pitch was suicide. We tightened it up after half-time but the damage was done at that stage.”
Given Galway’s big win over champions Dublin in last week’s Allianz HL opener, much was expected of them. They did have seven changes from that starting 15 — mitigating circumstances?
“A lot of lads had matches during the week so we had a lot of changes, yes, but that doesn’t excuse the way we played in the first-half, when we lost our focus.
“We have a young team, trying to build experience. Once we got in at half-time and got that focus back we were a different team, improved a lot. We’re building, trying to improve as a team in every game.”
Indeed Galway/Connacht did improve in the second half, outscored Leinster 1-7 to 0-6 (sub Paul Gordon especially impressive, another sub, Damien Hayes, with the goal) and regained a little pride. Truth be told, however, it was just as much a case of Leinster pulling in their horns.
The first scoring burst did it. Two goals from Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer, the first set up by the outstanding Michael Fennelly, the second from some sublime teamwork between Offaly’s Shane Dooley and Kilkenny’s Eoin Larkin. There were also seven points from the full-forward line of Dooley (three), Joe Bergin (two) and O’Dwyer himself, along with a half-dozen from the lethal blade of Richie Power, to give the home side an insurmountable lead at the break.
“In fairness to Connacht they upped their game, they worked harder, but the job was probably done in the first half,” said Leinster manager Joe Dooley.
“We got some great scores and could have had another goal or two. The lads were determined, worked fierce hard. The game was probably over at half-time, to be honest, the second half we just played out time really.
” We gave everyone on the panel a run over the two games and that was something we were conscious of. Everybody that didn’t get a run the last day [semi-final win over Munster] was played today.
“Very happy with the win — to beat Munster and Connacht, no-one can say we didn’t win it the hard way!”
One of those Leinster players who got a run was Westmeath’s Brendan Murtagh, scorer of 13 points in their crucial Division 2 league win over Kerry last week. He looked completely at home too and now has a Railway Cup medal now in the bag.
“It’s brilliant, delighted to get a run. Our forwards destroyed them in the first half, gave us a great platform though, we drove on from there.
“It was fairly heated when I did get on, took me a while to get up the speed of it, but great to get out there — any time you’re called up for something like this, it’s a great honour.”
Scorers for Leinster: R Power 0-10 (8fs, 1 65), R O’Dwyer 2-2, S Dooley 0-3, E Larkin, J Bergin 0-2 each.
Scorers for Connacht: C Cooney 0-9fs, D Hayes 1-1, B Burke 0-3, D Burke, I Tannian, 0-1 each.
LEINSTER: G Maguire (Dublin); P Murphy (Kilkenny), K Rossiter (Wexford), N Corcoran (Dublin); T Walsh (Kilkenny), J Tyrell (Kilkenny, capt), R Hanniffy (Offaly); M Fennelly (Kilkenny), M Rice (Kilkenny); TJ Reid (Kilkenny), R Power (Kilkenny), E Larkin (Kilkenny); S Dooley (Offaly), J Bergin (Offaly), R O’Dwyer (Dublin).
Subs: D Herity (Kilkenny) for Maguire (35), B Murtagh (Westmeath) for O’Dwyer (49), P Ryan (Dublin) for Reid (50), R Jacob (Wexford) for Dooley (62), D Kenny (Offaly) for Corcoran (62).
CONNACHT (all Galway): J Ryan; P Shiel; D Collins G O’Halloran; N Donoghue, F Moore (capt); J Cooney; A Harte, J Grealish; J Coen, C Cooney, I Tannian; B Burke, B Daly, D Burke.
Subs: P Gordon for Grealish (34), D Hayes for Coen (35), J Breen for Tannian (42), D Glennon for Daly(48), K Raymond (Sligo) for Donoghue (60).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).
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