Galway end All Ireland famine with tight win over Waterford at Croke Park
Galway 0-26 Waterford 2-17
Galway finally reached hurling's promised land as they captured the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in 29 years and for only the fifth time ever on an emotional day at Croke Park.
So often the bridesmaid on All-Ireland final day – Galway has lost six finals including two in the last five years – their day in the sun finally dawned.
In a nervous decider before a full house, they finally exorcised the demons despite failing to score a goal and conceding two to their opponents. Joe Canning hit nine points while team captain David Burke scored 0-4 from midfield as the Tribesmen tamed the Waterford challenge in the closing 15 minutes.
It was a poignant win too, given that two of those who featured prominently in previous victories, Joe McDonagh – who sang the West Awake on the dais of the Hogan Stand when they won in 1980 and Tony Keady who was Man of the Match in their 1988 win – both died in the last 16 months.
Ever since coming back from a ten-point deficit to beat Waterford in the quarter final of the Allianz League earlier this spring, Galway looked like a team on a mission. They have now completed the clean sweep, winning the Walsh Cup, the Allianz League, the Leinster championship and now the All-Ireland.
Micheál Donoghue, their quietly spoken manager, deserves much credit for turning their fortunes around, though the bulk of the credit belongs to the players who put their credibility on the line by ousting their previous boss Anthony Cunningham in 2015.
Finally, Joe Canning – one of the game's great talents – secures the only honour which has eluded him in his magnificent career. He always maintained that he would not be defined by whether he won a Celtic Cross. But who wants to be remembered as maybe the greatest player never to win one.
Self evidently it was a bitterly disappointing afternoon for Waterford. In only the county's fifth ever appearance in an All-Ireland decider they finished second best. Unquestionably there will be criticism of Derek McGrath tactics but the reality is that they almost certainly wouldn't have reached the final using a conventional approach.
McGrath is likely to depart as team boss when the dust settles but this group of players in talented enough to win an All-Ireland but as Galway will testify actually getting over the line in an All-Ireland final is never easy.
Ultimately, while they scored two first-half goals, their over-reliance on Pauric Mahony's frees in the second half proved their undoing. He hit 0-8 after the break – six frees – but none of the other starting Waterford players managed to score after the break which cost them dearly.
The fact that two of Galway's replacements, Niall Burke and Jason Flynn, scored 0-4 compared to 0-2 from the Waterford subs Brian O'Halloran and Tommy Ryan, was significant in deciding the outcome as well.
As expected, Waterford eschewed the traditional line out format. Tadgh De Burca operated as a sweeper; Darragh Fives played at wing back; Austin Gleeson started at centre forward but operated all over the field which effectively meant they played four forwards, Michael Walsh, Pauric Mahony, Shane Bennett and Jake Dillon.
Ultimately the failure of the mercurial Gleeson to make a big impact – though he did set up a second-half point for Mahony – did influence the outcome and Galway centre back Gearoid McInerney deserves credit for the marking job he did on him.
As expected, Galway opted to move Jonathan Glynn to the full forward line and for the first five minutes their 'shock and awe' policy looked to be working as they raced into a 0-4 to no score lead.
Waterford were struggling to win their own puck out. Yet in their first serious attack they hit the jackpot when Michael 'Brick' Walsh – who won his personal duel with John Hanbury in the opening half – linked up with team captain Kevin Moran, who scored his second career goal in championship hurling when he squeezed a shot in at the near post.
But Galway continued to play most of the hurling and added six more more points in the next 12 minutes. However, Waterford gradually played their way into the contest and a brilliant point from Walsh from under the Cusack Stand in the 18th minute underlined their growing confidence.
Then the game took another dramatic turn in the 21st minute; a long deliver from Kieran Bennett landed in the Galway danger zone and his brother Shane managed to get between his marker Adrian Tuohy and goalkeeper Colm Callanan. He distracted them both to such an extent that the sliotar bounced and rolled over the line.
Bennett got injured in the process and had to be replaced by Maurice Shanahan which wasn't part of Waterford's preordained game plan and ultimately the enforced change cost them dearly.
Suddenly, despite being outplayed. Waterford were level (0-10; 2-4). The Galway fans fell silent and down on the pitch the players looked shell shocked.
Glynn wasn't a success at full forward and the Waterford full back line with help from sweeper Tadgh de Búrca were on top. Noel Connors was keeping tabs on Conor Whelan, though the latter did get free for his first point after 27 minutes as Galway recovered some of their earlier momentum.
But Jamie Barron's second point from play – the Waterford midfielders outscored their Galway counterparts 1-2 to 0-3 in the first half - before a Joe Canning free gave Galway a slender one-point lead at the break (0-14; 2-7).
There was nothing to separate the sides in the first ten minutes of the second half which was notable for the fact that the first five Waterford points all came from the in-form Pauric Mahony – two from play as he got the better of his personal dual with Padraic Mannion.
The introduction of Niall Burke in the 43rd minute for the out-of-form Glynn had an immediate impact as he hit a brace of points within ninety seconds. Then Joe Canning landed a monster free and when the increasingly influential David Burke hit his fourth point, Galway were three clear with 19 minutes of normal time remaining.
But Waterford came back via points from substitute Brian O'Halloran and another free from O'Mahony after Aidan Harte, who struggled in the role of Galway sweeper, fouled Shanahan.
The bench was now playing a huge role as substitutes Jason Flynn (Galway) and Tommy Ryan (Waterford) exchanged points. A controversial refereeing call which resulted in a Joe Canning free in the 60th minute signalled a period of Galway dominance with Conor Cooney and Flynn adding quick-fire points. Suddenly Galway were four clear.
For the first time since the early minutes Waterford looked rattled and this was reflected in the fact that they hit three wides on the spin including a sideline from a subdued Austin Gleeson and a long-range free from Mahony – overall they hit six second-half wides compared to Galway's two.
He finally did convert a free in the 70th minutes as the sideline official signalled four minutes of injury time to be played. But Canning hit his sixth free to leave four between the sides again; Mahony replied with a free to leave a goal between the sides. At the death Coen saved a pile driver from Tommy Ryan and Galway survived.
Despite not scoring a goal since hitting two in their Leinster semi-final win over Dublin and conceding two in the first half of the final, Galway's ability to hit huge points tallies secured them the title.
Galway: C Callanan; A Touhy, Daithi Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen (0-1), David Burke (0-4); J Cooney (0-2), J Canning (0-9, 6f, 1 sideline), C Mannion (0-2), C Whelan 0-1), J Glynn, C Cooney (0-3). Subs: N Burke (0-2) for Glennon 43m; J Flynn (0-2) for C Mannion 54m; S Moloney for David Burke 69m;
Waterford: S O'Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T de Burca P Mahony, K Bennett (1-0); J Barron (0-2), K Moran (1-1); M Walsh (0-1), A Gleeson, P Mahony (0-11, 9f); S Bennett, J Dillon, D Fives. Subs: M Shanahan for S Bennett 22m; B O'Halloran (0-1) for Dillon 48m; T Ryan (0-1) for Walsh 55m; C Dunford for Barron 64m; P Curran for Kieran Bennett 64m;
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary)