GALWAY 1-14 TIPPERARY 0-15 AFTER seven dark seasons in a championship bunker, Galway hurlers can see the sun again. They re-emerged from under a heavy black cloud in Croke Park yesterday and powered their way into the Guinness All-Ireland semi-final where they will meet Kilkenny on August 13.
There was a palpable sense of relief in the Galway dressing-room afterwards as they celebrated their first major championship win since 1993 when, coincidentally, they beat Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Galway badly needed yesterday's win to inject real confidence into a bloodstream which bordered on the anaemic in recent years.
It was all so very different this time as they produced a compact, solid performance, where the error rate was way down on last year.
They did the simple things well - particularly in defence - and while the attack didn't deliver the high octane surge which took them to National League honours, they still did enough to win the day.
And so Tipperary's season has ended at the fourth fence. They were very disappointed by the performance, which rarely came up to the levels produced against Cork.
Once again, Tipperary's inability to score goals cost them dearly. They came close enough late on, but Michael Crimmins made a good stop and then, in the final minute, goalkeeper Brendan Cummins was brought up to try his luck with a 30 yard free.
It was real desperation stuff, but there was no way through a massed Galway defence and, once the block had been made, referee Dickie Murphy blew the full-time whistle. It would have been cruel on Galway had they been caught by a late goal. They had battled hard all day and rose to every challenge offered by Tipperary.
Galway had to cope with the loss of a six-point lead in the second quarter when Tipp were at their most constructive. It looked ominous for Galway when their 1-5 to 0-2 lead after 14 minutes was wiped out before half-time.
Tipperary drew level in the 34th minute, but Galway finished the half well, with Rory Gantley and Alan Kerins popping over two points to give them an interval lead of 1-8 to 0-9.
Both sides scored just six points each in a fiercely contested second half which failed to produce any score between the 49th and 63rd minutes. Both sides created plenty chances, but were let down by poor shooting and wild passing.
A draw was looking increasingly likely as the sides remained deadlocked with seven minutes to go. But then Galway struck for home, pointing twice and while Tipp sub Eoin Kelly pulled one back, Eugene Cloonan flashed over the clinching point.
If that score was hugely important, it still finished a distant second in the significance stakes to his goal in the 14th minute.
Everybody in the 43,011 crowd assumed that he would tap a close range free over the bar, but he was chasing bigger game. He whipped a powerful drive into the roof of the Tipperary net, giving Galway a huge boost. It was a typical Cloonan effort, based on incredible confidence levels, combined with the guts to try for goal from the half chance.
He scored 1-4 and, together with Athenry clubmate Joe Rabbitte, did most damage to the Tipperary defence, although Kevin Broderick also made a big impact after coming on as a sub in the 58th minute. Rabbitte made some great fetches in the second half, but was let down by his passing. However, he still had a very good day and did more than most to upset the Tipp defence.
Tipperary were dealt a first half blow when wing-back, Eamonn Corcoran, had to retire injured after 24 minutes. And while his replacement Paul Kelly hurled competently, Corcoran was still badly missed. John Leahy hobbled off in the second half and with Declan Ryan unable to play any part, Tipp's resources were stretched to the limit.
Nicky English had already moved to re-arrange his defence before Corcoran's injury, sending on Donncha Fahey for the struggling Michael Ryan. It brought about some improvement as Galway enjoyed far less room from there on.
Galway came very close to scoring a goal in the very first minute, but Brendan Cummins made a smashing save from Fergal Healy. Cummins made some other fine stops later on and can be absolved from all blame for this defeat.
There were times when Galway showed signs of ring-rustiness which was understandable, given that they hadn't played a competitive game since May 14. Their touch was unsure while the attackers, who are usually so good at devising smart running angles found it hard against gritty Tipperary defence, led by John Carroll, Paul Ormonde and Philip Maher.
At the other end, the Galway defence coped pretty well with the Tipperary forward line. Paul Shelley took on Brian Feeney on a few occasions, but didn't get enough ball to do serious damage, while Cathal Moore, Liam Hodgins and Paul Hardiman were all tight and tidy and ultimately got the better of the Tipp attack. Rory Gantley was an excellent link at midfield and provided added value with his accuracy from place balls.
While Galway were understandably delighted by their win, they will realise that they are not yet the finished article and will need to step up another gear to cope with Kilkenny.
Still, they have remained unbeaten since losing to Clare in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final replay. More importantly, they have beaten the quarter-final bogey which struck them down for the past three seasons.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Rory Gantley (Galway)
SCORERS - Galway: E Cloonan 1-4 (1-1 frees), R Gantley 0-5 (2f, 2'65's), D Canning, A Kerins, O Fahy, J Rabbitte, K Broderick 0-1 each. Tipperary: J Leahy 0-4 (3f), E O'Neill 0-3 (2f), B O'Meara, M O'Leary 0-2 each, P Shelley, E Enright, P Kelly, E Kelly 0-1 each.
GALWAY - M Crimmins; L Hodgins, B Feeney, V Maher; F Gantley, C Moore, P Hardiman; R Gantley, A Kerins; J Rabbitte, M Kerins, O Canning; E Cloonan, O Fahy, F Healy. Subs: D Tierney for Healy (47), B Higgins for F Gantley (48), K Broderick for A Kerins (58), M Healy for Maher (60), J Cooney for Fahy (62)
TIPPERARY - B Cummins; P Ormonde, P Maher, Michael Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane); J Carroll, D Kennedy, E Corcoran; Micheal Ryan (Templederry), J Leahy; M O'Leary, E Enright, B O'Meara; E O'Neill, P Shelley, T Dunne. Subs: D Fahey for Micheal Ryan (18), P Kelly for Corcroran (24), A Moloney for Leahy (40), E Kelly for O'Leary (60), L Cahill for Moloney (64).
REF - D Murphy (Wexford)