Tuesday 21 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Heroics will count for nothing unless Galway finish the job

Galway shot stopper Colm Callanan
Galway shot stopper Colm Callanan

Cyril Farrell

It has been a giddy week for Galway hurling supporters but the mood will have been very different inside the camp. Happy? Yes. Relieved? Absolutely. Content? No. Fulfilled? Definitely not.

Anthony Cunningham hit the right note immediately after last Sunday's game, pointing out that reaching the final would count for nothing unless Galway won it.

Many of the players know exactly what he meant, having experienced in 2012 that awful empty feeling which losing a final brings.

Cunningham deserves praise for sticking doggedly to the task when things didn't go right for the last two years. It would have been easy to walk away, especially after all the criticism he took, but he always believed in the squad and in those pushing to get on it.

He made some hard calls, on and off the pitch, and has been rewarded with another great opportunity to take the big prize.

Assumed

As for Tipperary, it was once again a case of near and yet so far.

Much has been made of Seamus Callanan's 3-4 from play, especially in the context of how Galway will cope with the Kilkenny attack in the final. Question is: how would any other full-back have done against Callanan last Sunday?

He is a remarkable talent, who hit one of those special days. Padraig Mannion, who is new to full-back, attacked the ball all the time, rather concentrating on stopping Callanan getting it into his hand.

It didn't work but Mannion, who is a fine young hurler with a massive future, will have learned a lot. He was given the toughest job of all, one that no defender in the country would have liked.

Naturally, people jumped on Cunningham for that match-up but what about Johnny Coen on 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and Daithi Burke on 'Bonner' Maher? Two-up to Cunningham.

Callanan apart, Tipperary's starting forward line hit 0-4 from play, while none of the half-backs or midfielders scored, so clearly Galway were getting an awful lot right too. Still, they can't leave as much space for the Kilkenny forwards to play into in the final.

I've heard remarks this week that there's no way any forward would ever pick a Kilkenny defence for three goals. Really? Didn't Lar Corbett notch a hat-trick against them in the 2010 All-Ireland final?

It's very encouraging for Galway that despite conceding three goals and scoring none, they won. It left them having to score nine times to match Callanan's three goals, a tall order that they wouldn't have come close to pulling off if their attitude hadn't been spot on.

Whoever coined the phrase "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard" would have been proud of Galway.

No-one ever doubted their talent, but it had to be accompanied by unbelievably hard graft last Sunday.

The number of times they forced Tipperary lads off the ball in a race for possession, or took it off them when they had it, was crucial and showed just how relentlessly defiant they were.

As ever, of course, the winners take it all so it's important to acknowledge Tipp's performance too.

Read more: The great debate: Is it time for hurling to introduce the black card for cynical fouls?

It would have beaten most opposition and, even with Galway scoring 26 times, Tipp were only a point short after scoring 3-16 and coming up against Colm Callanan (below) on a day when he looked as if he couldn't get enough shots to save.

It really was a game of half-inches and, in fairness to Tipp, you would have to say they didn't enjoy the best of luck, no more than they did last year when O'Dwyer's late free, which would have won the All-Ireland final, drifted just wide.

Invisible

It's very disappointing for Eamon O'Shea to leave the stage after the last two seasons ended with such close calls but, at this level, the margins are so tight as to virtually invisible.

He would have expected an awful lot more from his attackers - except Callanan of course - but they never played their way into the game.

And, if you're not winning enough ball off your direct opponent often enough, you're going to be in trouble.

I was surprised that 'Bonner' Maher wasn't playing down the centre, where he has done most damage. And I still think that Brendan Maher is better as a half-back or midfielder.

Still, O'Shea knows the players better than anybody and based the set-up on that. It came mighty close to delivering a win, but with Galway in such a stubborn mood, Tipp just couldn't see it through in what was the game of the season so far.

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