Tribesmen tied to 'pact'

Moore: Players promised each other they'd fight for every ball until the final whistle of every game

Frank Roche

PLAY to the final whistle. As sporting mantras go, it may well be a hoary old cliche but its relevance has not been lost on the Galway hurlers.

It was this quality that helped them salvage their top-flight status last spring: trailing by three points to Dublin as their Division 1A relegation play-off slipped into injury-time, a certain Joe Canning sprung to the rescue with a hat-trick of points.

The irony of that day is that Galway then failed to keep going until the final whistle of extra-time, allowing 13 Dubs to force an improbable replay with the last two points.

But that minor detail hasn't dampened the belief that this two-game joust with Dublin established the framework for their subsequent assault on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Would a relegated Galway have recovered their morale to conquer Leinster (and Kilkenny) in such spellbinding fashion? Doubtful.

Earlier this month we had the ultimate evidence of injury-time resolve - and again it was Joe Canning holding his nerve over that high-pressure free from the Hogan Stand touchline, having missed an easier one only minutes beforehand.

It begs the question whether previous Galway teams faced with the same squeaky-bum scenario would have dug out a result, having surrendered momentum for most of that second half.

Skipper Fergal Moore bats away the question by saying: "The squad that's hurling at the moment is the Galway senior squad 2012 and anything that any team has done before it, or anything that the team 2013 will do, has absolutely no relevance to this year."

But he then adds: "One thing we'll say for this squad this year is that we made a pact that we'd fight for every ball to the finish of every match, 'til the final whistle.

"That was the most encouraging thing the last day. Nobody gave up. Everybody kept going right 'til the end. Luckily we got the free and, all credit to Joe, he nailed the pressure free."

That distant April play-off against the Dubs was an early foretaste. Canning had been out with a shoulder injury for the entire league and was only parachuted in at the 11th hour in Tullamore.

His usually pristine touch was off during a scoreless first half; but then a switch to centre-forward prompted liberation. Galway's returning talisman shot an incredible 10 points in that second half, six from play.

According to Moore, management have been "harping on to us all year that the only whistle that matters is the final whistle and the only score that matters is the final score. We've a very young team, and we've improved with every outing so far. We've picked up little bits that we've improved on in every game.

"The drawn match and the replay against Dublin stood us very well for the championship. We got a lot of momentum from that. You know, Joe showed a lot of composure that day but he always does."

As it happens, Galway won that play-off replay by 14 points, suggesting that both Anthony Cunningham and his players are quick learners.

No one is anticipating a similar margin this Sunday, against Kilkenny of all teams, but what lessons have Galway absorbed from their latest deadlock? "We learned what we expected really - the All-Ireland champions are a very, very good team and they're not going to give up their title without a fight," Moore responds.

"We learned that when we play our own game and play it well, we have a chance of beating them. And when we are sloppy with possession and maybe take shots at goal we shouldn't, we let teams back into the game.

"It's one thing to learn those things in theory," he adds, "but it's all about putting that theory into practice in training. We've been focusing very hard on doing that since."

Whatever about familiarity breeding contempt, replays have a tendency to be ultra-tactical affairs.

But Moore counters: "I think it's just going to be more of the same. There's a huge, huge prize at stake, and what the draw bought us the last day was another chance at an All-Ireland final.

"We're still playing the All-Ireland champions, it's still a 50-50 game, they're still odds-on favourites, we're still up against it.

"It's all on the day who gets the best performance out of themselves. Neither team is going to lack for hunger or motivation. It will be hell for leather on the 30th."