Tribesmen's 10-year itch for Premier victory
A decade on from their last championship victory over Tipp, Galway are hungry to repeat the feat
John McIntyre mightn't have imagined a chat with Tipp FM would make national headlines this week, but his words were all too easily recycled as a pull across the shins of both Galway and Tipperary.
Coming from a man with history in both camps, McIntyre's candour was always going to find a market. Hence his suggestion that the outcome to tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final might actually be immaterial, given the relentlessness of Kilkenny's forward march, found extensive purchase across most media platforms.
Yet, the highly respected former Tipperary player and Galway manager wasn't alone in finding something almost bewildering about Kilkenny's intensity against Waterford last Sunday. The champions' hunger seemed faintly implausible given the extent to which their marquee players have been feted and celebrated in recent seasons.
With a young, fearless team straining every fibre to beat them, Kilkenny's absolute desire to prevail was, yet again, incontestable.
If anything, it felt like another juddering statement of self-assertion, just one more resounding marker laid down by the persistent Mr Cody.
So are Tipperary and Galway playing, essentially, for the right to form a guard of honour here?
It's a thought that would probably offend both Eamon O'Shea and Anthony Cunningham, given how their teams stretched Kilkenny to the edge of breaking point in the finals of 2014 and 2012 respectively. Trouble is, neither closed the deal on either occasion.
And, against Cody, that failure has a history of proving fatal.
O'Shea can point to Tipp's lowering of the Kilkenny colours in 2010, but he will do so knowing full well that - as long as they talk hurling in the stripey kingdom - the Cats will view that failure to secure five-in-a-row through the prism of Henry Shefflin nursing a hopelessly compromised cruciate.
No matter, Tipp and Galway tomorrow promises a script that might just electrify a summer, until now, illumined largely by candlepower.
A palpable frisson has been running through both counties now with Galway people, especially, warming to the growing self-sufficiency of a team that dined so royally on Cork's carcass last month, they were all but looking for tooth picks with 15 minutes remaining.
It's a decade now since their last championship victory over Tipperary, the memory of which delivers different sounds to the minds of Damien Hayes and Ken Hogan. Last week, Hogan was in Hayes's Portumna garage having a car serviced and their chat, inevitably, turned to a hurling rivalry that has seldom been low on colour.
That game in '05, Hogan's last as Tipperary manager, was turned on its head by a Hayes goal, maybe best remembered for the unceremonious manner in which he bullocked Hugh Maloney from his path.
Galway manager Conor Hayes would describe it as "the goal that kick-started our year".
For Hogan, a Tipp selector with Nicky English's '01 All-Ireland-winning crew and county goalkeeper for the victories of '89 and '91, it would prove a year of frustrated promise. With five small children at home, he'd reluctantly taken the reins from Michael Doyle at the end of '03 and believed his team was making solid progress having pushed Cork hard in an exciting Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Now in Croke Park, they seemed to have Galway's measure right up until that Hayes goal.
"One of my biggest memories of that game is Philip Maher (Tipp full-back) getting injured and having to go off on the stroke of half-time," he remembers. "We had to put our U-21 full-back Conor O'Mahony in. We were relatively comfortable at five points up with about 20 minutes remaining. Then things just happened.
"And one of them was obviously Damien's goal where he shook off Hugh Maloney's challenge and sent a scorcher past Brendan Cummins."
That goal was immediately followed by the conversion of a 100-metre free from Ger Farragher to tie the scores, Galway eventually running out 2-20 to 2-18 winners.
They'd also been responsible for ending Hogan's inter-county playing career with victory in the '93 All-Ireland semi-final, his hurt salted by the concession of a soft goal. "'Hopper' McGrath struck a ball in, he actually meant it for a point, but it spun off the ground and hopped in over my shoulder."
For the Lorrha man, games against Galway always carried a resolutely personal resonance. Growing up on the Rathcabbin side of the parish, he went to school in Birr. But Lorrha contemporaries of his like McIntyre and another Tipp player, John Madden, pursued their education in Portumna.
To this day, the Hayes's Portumna garage sponsors Lorrha's camogie team.
And Hogan's first senior inter-county campaign came in '87 when, after 16 seasons in the wilderness, Tipp got to an All-Ireland semi-final, losing out to Cyril Farrell's Galway. In '88, they went one step further but, again, Galway had their measure in the final.
By '89, familiarity had bred a certain toxicity between the counties, their relationship contaminated by the famous 'Keady Affair' which maybe obscured the story that Tipp, finally, had found Galway's measure. Tipp won again when they met in the '91 championship but summer meetings between the counties have been rationed to just two since that quarter-final of '05.
For Damien Hayes, that game proved a launchpad that never quite delivered him to the hoped-for destination. Having then despatched Kilkenny in a firecracker of a semi-final, Galway never summoned a single convincing punch in the final against Cork.
"We didn't perform in the final and there's huge regrets about that to this day," he reflects now. "It's funny, that goal got me known in Tipp anyway! People remind me of it to this day and it was an unbelievable feeling. I remember I made contact with the ball so low to the ground, it was nearly like a golf-stroke.
"Hugh Maloney got five foot seven of my mother's Clare blood, my father's Galway blood and the core strength of all the farming that we did when I hit him that day. That goal probably changed a lot for me personally too, I won an All-Star that year.
"I had great days in a Galway jersey, achieved an awful lot, but I didn't win the All-Ireland medal and that is utterly disappointing."
He announced his inter-county retirement last January having had minimal involvement during the 2014 campaign. It wasn't a decision taken easily given the sense of place that burns so fiercely inside him.
A couple of weeks back, on a family break with his wife, former Tipp camogie star Claire Grogan, and their young son Eanna, they called into Páidí ó Sé's pub in Ventry for a lunchtime Coke.
And, as Damien perused the history on the walls, he came upon a quote from Páidí's nephew, Tomás, on the subject of retirement.
"I went as hard as I could for as long as I could," wrote Tomas and it's a line that resonated with Hayes.
"I miss it terribly," he conceded. "I miss it every day. I gave it my heart and soul and I must be the worst spectator in the world watching matches now.
"Claire was with me at the Leinster final and she got more elbows in the side during that game. I'd still be a mad Galway man.
"I'm a terrible spectator, absolutely useless. Look, I miss every part of it if I'm honest. I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't. I gave it 16 years of my life, two as minor, 14 as senior and I never missed a training session. Look, I had great days."
Hayes believes it is Galway's turn to lower the Premier colours now. He talks of "a huge high" in the county, a sense that this team may be ready, perhaps, to go one better than the beaten finalists of '05 and '12.
"I just feel the boys are on a roll now," he said. "Momentum is a huge thing and I think that's what will carry them through now. Remember it's Galway's sixth game and only Tipp's third. That's three games extra of championship hurling. You can play any amount of challenges or matches amongst yourselves, but I think that has to stand to Galway."
Five years have passed now since Hogan managed Tipp's U-21s to a staggering 25-point All-Ireland final destruction of Galway just six days after Lar Corbett's three goals had blown Kilkenny's five-in-a-row dream to smithereens.
It seemed at the time as if some kind of new dynasty was forming. Yet, Kilkenny just refused to allow it.
"If we'd kicked on in 2011, it may have opened the channels for a semi-domination, but it didn't happen," he reflects now.
"Obviously, Kilkenny came back - just as they had done in 2006 against Cork - with fire in their eyes."
Contrary to Hayes's argument about momentum, Hogan believes that Tipp's relatively light workload en route to tomorrow's semi-final may now be what stands to them. "Have we been tested?" he asks. "Not really yet. Are we going to be tested this Sunday? Big time!"
And the fear of a fellow Lorrha man that, tomorrow, might ultimately be just another battle for the role of bridesmaid?
"I think both Tipp and Galway will have no fears of Kilkenny," says Hogan. "I don't see the All-Ireland as a foregone conclusion. Whoever wins this game will have a huge chance of winning on September 6. I think it's all to play for."