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Ref's decisions cost Galway dear, says Cunningham

HISTORY won't show it but Galway had their chances yesterday.

Most likely, the Galway 2012 vintage will be remembered as the team who took the mighty Kilkenny to a replay before dutifully playing the role of the stereotypical underdog, ruing their inability to take their chance the first time around.

The scoreline will reflect and enhance that perception but still, they had their chances yesterday.

At 2-7 to 1-13 down in the 48th minute, Joe Canning took a slightly miscued pass from Niall Burke and rifled way past David Herity, so much so that the sliotar rebounded off the foot of the post. Within four minutes, Kilkenny had responded with four long-range points and Cyril Donnellan's sending off cost Galway a man for the remainder of the game.

Four minutes beforehand, Donnellan managed to actually put the ball between the posts for a 'goal' but James McGrath had blown for an earlier infringement and a point from the free was all Galway got.

Chances. All-Ireland final day. Regrets.

"That's the referee's call but we were very, very unfortunate to have got the call at that period because we felt we were on top at the time and small things win matches," reckoned Anthony Cunningham afterwards.

"Tremendous shot by Joe, it came off the foot of the post and out the field and then Cyril ... it was a hard match but I don't think it was in any way dirty and maybe he was unfortunate as he was our top forward there in the first half, he'd a great chance of a goal before half-time. We fought tremendously hard and we're extremely proud of our players."

It's not often you substitute your 'keeper in a hurling match but by the time the ball was thrown in yesterday, the world and its mother knew that James Skehill's shoulder wasn't right. He lasted until half-time but Cunningham was adamant that the speculation and talk hadn't disrupted their preparations in any way. "I don't' think so. It was expertly dealt with by our medical team on Friday night, he was unfortunate to have fallen awkwardly on it and it was a partial dislocation but we had tremendous medical back-up.

"I couldn't speak highly enough of our physio Gerry Reilly, our doctor Dan Murphy and the help we got from the Galway surgeons ... we were in an excellent place.

"James will be back, there's no doubt about that. He gave us a tremendous year this year and probably needs a small bit of surgery now on the many knocks he's got."

Defeated they might have been yesterday but still, it's quite an achievement for Cunningham and his team in their first year to win a Leinster title and take Kilkenny to a replay. And with 12 of the squad still under-21, as selector Tom Helebert pointed out, their natural trajectory over the coming years should lead them to that podium.

"It's fair to say that some of our older players, or players you might term older by comparison to the young guys we have, are not old players," he said. "They're fresh, and well able for what lies ahead, in terms of the process we'll be backing out for next year, in terms of plans we have.

"So at the core unit is essentially a very strong and developing unit, so we'd be pretty pleased about that. There was always going to be something of a risk when you take a young side to Croke Park, against what Kilkenny are, so it's a learning curve massively on it."