Cunningham paves way for new wave
Published 12/09/2011 | 05:00
Their senior teams may have fluffed their lines in 2011, but the academies in Galway are singing to a near perfect pitch.
For all the talk of a blue tide sweeping Gaelic games, it is the maroon of Galway that has crept up in stealth-like fashion to claim half of the what are, essentially, the mainstream All-Ireland titles. Dublin cannot even match that haul now.
The success of the U-21 footballers in May has been followed up with All-Ireland final victories in six days over Dublin for the minors and U-21 hurlers. In between, there has been the malaise of both senior teams that has cast dark clouds over the county. Galway at senior level remain a conundrum.
But through those clouds an intense force is building that will surely lead to a break across all fronts in the next few years.
Surely? Well, Galway have been down this road before far too often, sucked in by the optimism of occasions like Saturday night in Thurles and Croke Park six days earlier.
But if something cannot be made out of these two teams, allied to what is already there in the guise of Joe Canning and Co in the next five years, then the resolve to continue on all fronts will be seriously tested.
Galway have claimed All-Ireland minor/U-21 doubles before: in 2005 and, most notably, in 1983 from which two All-Ireland senior hurling titles were won, with 12 of those two '83 teams featuring in the 1987 and '88 finals.
Still, caution will be in the air because of the scars inflicted by promising underage teams and players of the past.
But this team had a vision of how they wanted to play. Diagonal balls into a pacy full-forward line where captain Barry Daly caused early havoc was the key to unlocking a fragile Dublin defence. They didn't overplay the ball, they didn't carry into contact too often. Instead, they moved it quickly into space and that had the effect of softening any physical advantage Dublin might have leaned on.
For manager Anthony Cunningham, the transformation from 12 months ago -- when they were humiliated in the corresponding game by Tipperary in a carnival atmosphere just six days after Tipp had halted Kilkenny's five-in-a-row -- won't do his prospects of graduation to the senior team any harm.
In fact, it may well be the catalyst for change as Galway clubs weigh up whether or not to approve John McIntyre's team to see out their final year. With Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert, Cunningham has a ready-made team and the apparent interest to take it on.
Cunningham was quick to praise his players for the recovery from last year's 25-point mauling from a celebratory home side. There were 12 players involved in both games, but the experience stood to them.
"Winner takes all," said Cunningham, the U-21 captain in 1983. "These players were shell-shocked last year. It was probably a lonely place, but these guys worked so hard for it this year.
"They were a very young team 12 months ago, the experience stood to them. We did a lot of development work with them on the pitch."
The failure of their underage hurlers in the two most recent finals leaves Dublin scrambling for All-Ireland joy, from minor and senior footballers, next weekend.
This team looked beaten once Galway corner-forwards Davy Glennon and James Regan had cut them open for goals in the lead-up to half-time.
Senior players Liam Rushe and Daire Plunkett portrayed weary figures after a long season underpinned by so many big games. Rushe was still arguably Dublin's best player but in relation to how the captain can lead, he'll be disappointed. Thrown in to attack to try to make something happen in the second half, his impact was limited.
"For some of them, that was maybe their third major final and their fourth major game. Sometimes that can tell, but we're not using it as an excuse," said Dublin manager John McEvoy.
For touch, pace and composure Galway had an edge everywhere and that eventually manifested in a comfortable lead.
They fell behind to an early Tomas Connolly goal in the third minute. Kevin O'Loughlin's point attempt seemed to hang in their air for an eternity, but it eventually hit the crossbar and was batted out by goalkeeper Jamie Ryan to the waiting Connolly, who took full advantage.
The lead was short-lived, however, when Tadhg Haran converted a penalty on nine minutes after Daly was adjudged to have been brought down as he threatened Dublin's goal. It didn't look like a foul in real time and the replay didn't do anything to support referee Tony Carroll's view either.
With Declan Connolly and Niall Donoghue outstanding in the Galway full-back line, Dublin's forwards found it hard to thrive. But their opposite numbers eventually got the space they love when Regan put in Glennon for the second goal on 27 minutes -- before quickly following up himself with a wonderful catch and drive, taking him past the cover before he executed a sublime finish for a 3-6 to 1-4 interval lead.
Dublin were rocked badly by that double salvo and didn't recover. Glennon continued to tease and torment while David Burke's influence also grew.
Ryan brought off a breathtaking save from Dublin substitute Robert Mahon on 48 minutes and Galway never allowed the cushion to dip below eight.
Three years ago, this U-21 team lost to a last-minute Kilkenny goal in the All-Ireland minor final in Croke Park so their progress, without Richie Cummins, is significant.
Regan certainly had an eye on the future and a desire to build in the aftermath of Saturday night.
"We need to take confidence from this. This thing that Galway are not good enough, I have been hearing that," said Regan. "But it is a mindset, we have to get the mindset that we are good enough and we can be up there with Kilkenny and Tipperary and we can be as good as any of them. This is only an U-21 title, senior has to be the one that we dream of, that we have to die for."
Scorers -- Galway: T Haran 1-3 (1-0 pen), D Glennon, J Regan 1-2 each, N Burke, D Burke (2f) 0-3 each, C Cooney 0-1. Dublin: K O'Loughlin 0-5 (5f), T Connolly 1-2 (0-2f), R Mahon 0-2, N McMorrow 0-1.
Galway -- J Ryan 8; D Connolly 8, N Donoghue 9, G O'Halloran 7; J Grealish 7, P Gordan 6, R Foy 7; J Coen 7, D Burke 8; C Cooney 7, N Burke 7, T Haran 8; J Regan 8, B Daly 8, D Glennon 9. Subs: R Burke 7 for Gordan (18), B Burke 7 for Haran (41), D Fox for Cooney (54), N Quinn for N Burke (56), D Cooney for D Burke (61).
Dublin -- G McManus 6; B O'Carroll 6, D Kelly 5, J Doughan 5; D Curran 6, L Rushe 8, M Quilty 7; C Gough 6, D Sutcliffe 7; K O'Loughlin 6, M Schutte 5, D Plunkett 6; E Dillon 6, T Connolly 7, N McMorrow 6. Subs: F Clabby 6 for Kelly (h-t), S McGrath 5 for Schutte (h-t), R Mahon 8 for O'Loughlin (37), B Quinn for Connolly (57).
Ref -- T Carroll (Offaly).