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Tribes thrill to take Title

U21 football is the grade that keeps on giving to the land of the Tribes.

We had more exhilarating evidence of this on Saturday night, when not even an incessant Limerick drizzle, borrowed straight out of Angela's Ashes, could dampen Galway hearts – or the quality of their performance.

Ultimately, their tigerish blocking in defence, the midfield majesty of Fiontán Ó Curraoin and – here was the real tie-breaker – their sublime point-scoring combined to produce a thrilling 1-14 to 1-11 victory over the marginal pre-match favourites, Cork.

 

Deliver

It was enough to deliver a fifth All-Ireland U21 title for Galway, an incredible fourth since 2002, and a second in three seasons.

Cork deserve kudos for their gutsy refusal to accept the seemingly inevitable – at one stage in the third quarter they trailed by nine points, having leaked an unanswered 1-4 in a five-minute maroon shell-burst. But they couldn't quibble with the outcome.

Throughout this campaign, Galway have worn their outsider status almost as a badge of honour. "We've come up against Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Kildare and Cork – we've been underdogs for them all," declared Galway manager Alan Flynn on the Gaelic Grounds pitch afterwards.

"It didn't really bother us too much in the sense that our focus was very much 'Can we perform? Can we keep improving in our game, in every step?'

"Because we knew today was going to be a step-up in standard and in fairness to Cork, I think if they were allowed any opportunities they were going to take a hold of them.

"But I felt our defence, particularly in the first 20-25 minutes of the game, were outstanding really."

A valid assessment, although the 4,324 spectators huddled under the Mackey Stand roof were probably even more enthralled by the point-scoring off either foot of Cathal Mulryan (0-3) and Ian Burke especially (0-4).

The winners' first-half shooting was clinical and effortless. Cork huffed and puffed but were doing well to be within touching distance, 0-9 to 0-5.

A quick-fire brace from their chief inspiration, Brian Hurley, cut the margin to two points soon after the resumption. And yet key indicators of Galway dominance/Leeside disarray soon resurfaced.

Relatively early in the second half, we had already counted seven clean kickout catches by Galway's totemic skipper, Ó Curraoin. Cork had replaced his direct opponent, Seán Kiely, and their semi-final Man of the Match, Mark Sugrue, within ten minutes of the restart. And then it got even worse for them.

There was an element of luck to Galway's 40th-minute goal: Mulryan's under-cooked shot mutated into a perfect pass for Adrian Varley, who teed up Damien Comer for a bullet-like finish.

But after point-scoring cameos by Galway defenders Paul Varley and David Cunnane, Rebel resistance was reactivated by Hurley's spectacular 44th-minute goal.

A 1-3 salvo left just a goal between the sides; Galway also lost their 'keeper, Thomas Healy, to a kickout injury. Yet the last 13 minutes, plus just one (controversially) added on, delivered plenty of nerve-shredding drama but not a single score.

Gaillimh Abú. Now for the hard part: senior resurrection, starting with Mayo on Sunday week.


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