Competitive, yes. Consistent, no. Well, consistent in terms of getting to the decider. Consistent, too, in coming up short.
It was 2009 when the Galway hurlers packed their bags and headed east, a move signed off on to reinvigorate a provincial championship whose graph had fallen off the page owing to a decade of Kilkenny dominance.
And even the Cats were now losing interest – just over 18,000 attended the 2008 final where Brian Cody’s charges walloped Wexford to the tune of 19 points.
The westerners’ arrival certainly shook a bit of life back into the race for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup. Their first meeting with Kilkenny saw the then All-Ireland champions forced to claw back a five-point second-half deficit before running out winners by four. Not since the revolution years had Kilkenny been made to sweat so profusely middle of June.
The Tribesmen have reached five Leinster finals during the nine seasons spent in their adopted province. Six, if you include Sunday. All bar 2012 ended in defeat.
“Look, they still have been very, very competitive,” says Galway manager Micheál Donoghue. “They’ve been reaching All-Ireland semi- finals and finals. They have been consistent, maybe not winning the Leinster final. This is our third Leinster final in-a-row. Obviously, we want to win it.”
Surprised the team sitting opposite them is Wexford?
“No matter where Davy has been, whatever teams he has been with over the last number of years, he has always got the best out of them. From that regard, we fully expected they would be challenging. He’s an unbelievable manager. From my own perspective and any other manager, it’s great putting your wits up against him.
“The impact he has had, people say it happened quickly, but they have a lot of good hurlers down there. They have gelled well together and they have had a great season. When you get to where you are now, they are not going to be content with just having a good season and pushing and pushing. They are going to be there to try and win it. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. They have had massive results in the last couple of weeks.”
A contributing factor in Wexford’s rise was the back-to-back wins they achieved during the opening fortnight of the league. Promotion to the top tier was effectively theirs as early as February 19.
That was the afternoon they stunned Galway in Salthill. Six minutes from half-time, Wexford found themselves 2-7 to 0-6 behind. With 17 minutes remaining, they trailed 3-12 to 0-15. From there, they’d outscore their hosts 1-6 to 0-1.
Galway may have finished the spring as league champions but promotion had been the initial goal.
“Once they got over the line against Limerick the week previous, it gave them huge confidence. They didn’t fear coming up to play us. Definitely, we didn’t underestimate them. We knew what Davy was going to bring.
“It was huge disappointment from us on the day, especially when we were in a good position. But testament to Wexford, they finished really strong. The big, big turning point for us was in the Waterford game (league quarter-final). We hadn’t a great start or a great 35/40 minutes, but we recovered from that. It just gave the boys great confidence and we moved on from there.
“We have grown as a team from it and pushed on from it.” Indeed, they have. So much so that they are now considered favourites for Liam MacCarthy. That’s what will happen when you win your league semi-final by 10 points, beat the All-Ireland champions by 16 in the decider and run up 2-61 in your first two Leinster championship games.
Donoghue, to no great surprise, won’t entertain such talk.
“There is a lot of hype about it. There’s no point in talking about the All-Ireland unless you are in it.
“Winning is a habit, so if you can win the provincial title, I think it would be massive for the lads.
“It’s all about getting it right, going through the front door and trying to get there in as few games as you can.”
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