Galway 'get the bit between their teeth' to crush Laois
Galway 3-28 Laois 1-14 Leinster SHC Semi-Final
It's three years now since it seemed that Anthony Cunningham had finally found the answer to Galway's maddening inconsistency.
There was a baseline level of performance throughout that campaign and a steel to their play that made them hard to beat, even when they weren't firing.
After going so close to beating Kilkenny in the drawn All-Ireland final in 2012, it was taken as read that they would be regular contenders at last and surely end the gap back to 1988, when the Liam MacCarthy Cup last went west.
While Cunningham maintained that they were harshly judged last year, when they had to play three games in 13 days against Kilkenny and Tipperary, he admitted that finding consistency had been a struggle.
It's too early to say if the solution has been found, but there is some evidence to suggest in the wake of the two Dublin games, that progress is being made.
"The talent is there and it's a need to get the bit between the teeth," said Cunningham. "They need that. It's not all about hurling in this world; it's really who wants it the most."
Cunningham described the convincing win over Laois as adequate but it was enough for Galway to canter towards their pre-season target of a Leinster final.
The Tribesmen scored 1-16 in the last 18 minutes of the opening period and kept Laois scoreless to claim the win. Having been level at 0-2 each when playing with a strong wind, the Westerners went into cruise control in the second half.
Cunningham wasn't handing out any bouquets, however.
"We're in the Leinster final where we wanted to be," said the Galway manager.
"We gathered last November and July 5 was etched in our minds ever since. We know the battle it's going to be in two weeks' time and we're just delighted to get over today.
"We probably thought it would be a bit closer, but we performed adequately. There's always room for improvement.
"It was quite congested for the first quarter and it took us a while to find our range and I suppose our shooting from the middle third (wasn't good).
"It's tricky enough playing against one sweeper but when it's two or three back. . . they crowded it well and with the breeze it was going to take time."
They found the solution though the goal that opened the floodgates was hardly a crafted glory, as Johnny Coen let fly from more than 90 metres. Laois goalkeeper Eoin Reilly either lost sight of the sliotar or misjudged its flight - either way, it ended in the net and it was a calamity from which Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett's crew never recovered.
"We just didn't fire up and give the performance that we expected of ourselves," said Plunkett.
"I'm absolutely convinced of the character that is in this team and I'm looking forward to bouncing back again the next day.
"That's the immediate important thing. You cannot simply go in cycles. You've got to keep your eye on the ball the whole time; you've to keep on working. It's important that we all do that and that the supporters and everybody stays behind the team."
Joe Canning scored 1-15 in a commanding all-round performance. He notched up 1-4 from play but his general contribution was excellent.
"He's a class player. If he's inside he needs to deliver. He can and he has the talent and he's a good head," said Cunningham.
"Johnny Glynn is a fantastic worker. He's won a huge amount of ball. We've different guys and different tactics."
Laois had started well, with Paddy Purcell and Tommy Fitzgerald scoring excellent points. Purcell was outstanding and was unlucky not to score a goal with his eighth-minute effort.
Once Coen found the net at the other end, though, it was plain sailing for Galway as they rampaged through their shellshocked opponents.
Laois were more competitive in the second half with the wind advantage but Galway failed to keep up the pace in the third quarter - nor did they need to.
Stephen Maher was pushed forward, having operated in a deeper role initially, and that switch paid off with a goal.
That reduced the margin to 15 points but Galway were quick to respond, with Canning scoring a goal in the 49th minute, showing tremendous strength to out-field Matthew Whelan and finishing from close range.
Glennon came on to score 1-2. His goal was a testament to the vision of Iarla Tannian but Glennon did well to finish under pressure, reacting quickly to palm the bouncing sliotar to the net after he had initially appeared to lose possession.
Laois showed the spirit that has defined them since Plunkett took over three years ago, with Purcell, Zane Keenan, Joe Campion and Maher all adding points, but Canning was flawless from frees.
With Glennon and Padraig Brehony also on the mark, the margin stretched to 23.
Laois finished with three points, including two from substitute Paddy Whelan, and they will comfort themselves moving into the qualifiers with the fact that they were the equal of Galway for three-quarters of the game.
Unfortunately for them, the one in which they were blown away came before half-time. It showed what Galway are capable of and on the back of their Dublin demolition, suggests that they might be serious contenders once more.
Scorers - Galway: J Canning 1-15 (0-9fs, 2 65s); D Glennon 1-2; J Coen 1-0; David Burke, A Smith, N Healy, P Mannion 0-2 each; J Hanbury, C Mannion, P Brehony 0-1 each. Laois: Z Keenan 0-5(3fs, 2 65s); S Maher 1-1; P Purcell 0-3; P Whelan 0-2; J Campion, T Fitzgerald, C Dwyer 0-1 each.
Galway - C Callanan 7, J Hanbury 7, J Coen 8 , P Mannion 8, Daithi Burke 7, I Tannian 7, D Collins 7, A Smith 7, A Harte 6, David Burke 7, C Donnellan 6, J Glynn 7, C Mannion 6, J Canning 9, N Healy 6. Subs: P Brehony for Harte blood (12-14), D Glennon 7 for Healy (40), J Cooney 6 for Donnellan (48), Brehony 6 for Harte (52), G McInerney 6 for Collins (56), F Moore 6 for C Mannion (61).
Laois - E Reilly 6, B Stapleton 6, M Whelan 5, C Healy 7, T Delaney 6, J Fitzpatrick 6, JA Delaney 5, J Campion 6, P Purcell 8, S Maher 7, T Fitzgerald 6, D Palmer 6, W Hyland 5, Z Keenan 6, C Dwyer 5. Subs: P Whelan for T Delaney blood (34-ht), P Whelan 7 for JA Delaney (47), N Foyle 6 for Camption (55), B Conroy 6 for Fitzgerald (64).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary).
Game at a glance
Man of the Match: Joe Canning (Galway)
Impossible to stop one-on-one when he's in this form, combining raw power with speed of mind and foot. The drift further out is more sporadic now and more effective for that but doing the greatest damage from the edge of the square. Placed-ball striking is flawless.
Johnny Coen's fortuitous 17th-minute goal turned the game on its head. The teams were on 0-2 apiece but this score sparked an unbroken run of 1-16 for Galway up to half time.
Have Galway found the consistency to be real contenders?
Iarla Tannian's astute delivery from his own half when spotting Davy Glennon's run and enabling the sub not to have to break his run before scoring Galway's third goal.
Fergal Horgan seemed loathe to blow his whistle and missed numerous fouls in the process. Not many of them could be attributed to the advantage rule either. It wasn't a dirty game but a couple of players can count themselves lucky not to be red-carded for wreckless head-high challenges.