Thursday 19 October 2017

Was the significance of the National League final overstated?

Joe Canning of Galway celebrates after scoring the winning point of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Joe Canning of Galway celebrates after scoring the winning point of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Could they do it all again, serve up another thriller? The answer was an emphatic yes.

After a first half that didn’t hit the heights of their semi final contests from the last two seasons, the game moved on to a new level after the break. Joe Canning, subdued until then, found a fresh energy and capped a brilliant second half with one of the most memorable winning scores ever delivered in Croke Park deep into injury time.

Typical of this fixture, Tipp still carved out a chance to level but Bubbles O’Dwyer’s effort tailed wide. For the third year running just a point divided the teams at the end. They were level on 12 occasions and it looked destined for a replay when the exceptional Brendan Maher landed a free from over 70m two minutes into injury-time to level the match for the last time.

Tipp’s defence couldn’t handle the Galway g-force that blew it away in the league final. This was a better performance with no goal conceded, although Conor Whelan was a constant menace, ending up with four points.

Tipp never really got to grips with him and their full back line was very shaky in the early stages of the match when Galway peppered the line with ball.

Manager Michael Ryan and his selectors opted to recall the experienced Michael Cahill and moved All-Star James Barry, whose form had slumped, to full back.

The whole defensive unit tightened up, even if Galway did have goal chances, Canning blazing a 61st minute effort wide and Jonathan Glynn having another effort saved a minute earlier by Darren Gleeson.

Early in the second half Conor Cooney broke through the cover and sent a low shot wide of the upright.

Was the significance of the National League final overstated?

Probably. Galway are not that good; Tipp certainly are not that bad. The match which firmly established Galway as All-Ireland favourites, with Kilkenny in obvious decline, saw Galway demolish Tipp by 16 points.

Having failed to win promotion from Division 1B, with a team that looked a beaten docket when trailing Waterford in the league quarter finals in Pearse Stadium, Galway transformed their season.

They came through a dour semi final win over Limerick a little under the radar and blossomed in the final. Tipp repaired much of the damage inflicted although it will be of little consolation.

Tipp’s goalscoring reputation - could it be their salvation?

Two years ago in the All-Ireland semi final Seamus Callanan put 3-9 to his name and almost single-handedly destroyed Galway’s championship bid.

Padraic Mannion was unable to deal with him and when the selectors finally made changes, moving John Hanbury to full back, the damage was done.

Fortunately for Galway, they were able to score enough at the other end to compensate, with Canning setting up the winner for substitute Shane Moloney.

Last year Galway were better prepared. They placed Daithi Burke on Callanan who kept him goal-less and scoreless from play.

But Galway were still undone by Tipp goals and two late strikes from John McGrath and a beauty from ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer turned the match in their direction and led them towards another final and title.

This time a goal from John McGrath in the first half came against the run of play and gave Tipp much needed belief.

Callanan and Noel McGrath had other goal chances and Galway’s full back line looked nervous in the first half, but settled down after the interval with Adrian Tuohy turning his game around and playing a big role in a more assured defensive performance.

Gearoid McInerney, who Tipp tried to target as a potential weakness, was outstanding at centre back.

Mind the Gap.

In last year’s All-Ireland semi final, Tipp looked rusty after steamrolling Waterford in the Munster final, the five-week wait for their semi final possibly responsible for a slow start when they met Galway who had come through a quarter final win over Clare three weeks earlier.

Tipp only got into their stride in the final quarter. Before Tipp managed to reach the All-Ireland final last year as Munster champions, the previous four Munster winners had all fallen at the semi final stage.

This time it was Galway who were forced to wait, having had five weeks without a match since winning the Leinster final against Wexford.

They were clunky in the first half, Canning in particular although there were reports he was carrying an injury in the lead-in to the match, but raised their performance in the second half. Tipp looked to have benefitted from their busier recent schedule.

Tipp’s All-Ireland title retention bogey remains intact. Not since 1965 has the county managed to successfully defend an All-Ireland, an incredible statistic given their tradition.

Leaving Croke Park last September after winning the All-Ireland they looked a good bet to break that cycle. Galway’s dream is trying to win just once. Their last was 29 years ago, before a good many of their current side, including Canning, were born. Now they are just one more win away from realising that dream.

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