Tuesday 24 April 2018

Galway justify their All-Ireland favouritism with clinical Leinster final victory over Wexford

Galway 0-29 Wexford 1-17

The President of Ireland Michale D Higgins and the Galway captain David Burke celebrate with the Bob O'Keeffe Cup after the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
The President of Ireland Michale D Higgins and the Galway captain David Burke celebrate with the Bob O'Keeffe Cup after the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
John Hansbury of Galway in action against Diarmuid O'Keeffe of Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Galway hurlers have been crowned Leinster hurling champions for only the second time in their history.

A dominant second half performance saw the All-Ireland favourites comfortably beat Davy Fitzgerald's brave Wexford side.

Galway did concede the game's only goal after 52 minutes but the All-Ireland favourites controlled the last ten minutes of the first half and virtually the entire second half when Wexford only scored two points from play and a total of 1-6. In contrast Galway hit 15 points after the break.

Full forward Conor Cooney tormented the Wexford defence scoring 0-8 while Joseph Cooney shot five points and though Joe Canning was held scoreless from play, he still contributed 0-10 from placed ball – including a sublime sideline.

So Galway march on to another All-Ireland semi-final appearance and they remain on course to finally secure the Liam MacCarthy for the first time since 1988. But there is still a lot of hurling to be played in the 2017 championship yet.

The difference in experience between the two sides told in the end – Galway were appearing in their sixth Leinster final since 2010 while Wexford were making their debut in this decade and it told in the second half when the underdogs lost their way.

The first half was tight and tactical – which suited the challengers perfectly. As expected Shaun Murphy played as a sweeper while Aidan Harte did likewise for Galway at the other end. Wexford deployed just two forwards inside the Galway 20 metre line, Jack Guiney and Harry Kehoe.

Interestingly neither team created a single goal scoring chance in the first period.. Galway full forward Conor Cooney was the outstanding finisher on the field in the half hitting four excellent points.

Having hit a hat trick of scores off his initial marker Willie Devereux; the latter switched to wing back with Simon Donohoe getting the job of marking Galway's in-forward.

However, the most fascinating aspect of the first half was that four of the nine Wexford points they scored from play came from defenders. Not alone did Matthew O'Hanlon keep Joe Canning scoreless from play, he hit two points with Devereux and Diarmuid O'Keeffe notching points as well.

This willingness by the Wexford defenders to shoot accurately from range has been a feature of their campaign so far. The other plus for Wexford was that they were winning the majority of the rucks.

The work rate of the Wexford forwards was excellent as well and this forced the Galway defenders to hastily hit some of their clearances which sweeper Shaun Murphy snapped up.

Galway started without Cathal Mannion and his replacement Jason Flynn only lasted 31 minutes – he was replaced after hitting two wides. The teams were level on five occasions in the first half and Wexford didn't take the lead for the first time until the 17th minute.

Twice they led by two points in the second quarter but ominously for the challengers it was Galway who finished the half much stronger. Even though he wasn't prominent in open play Joe Cooney's free taking was excellent.

His six placed ball were invaluable and Galway outscored Wexford 7-2 in the last 15 minutes of the half – there were more than four minutes of injury time played – left Galway ahead 0-14; 0-11 ahead at the break – but by no means in control.

This point was emphasised within three minutes of the resumption when excellent work from Conor McDonald put Aidan Nolan through on goal – his effort was saved but the referee ruled he was been fouled. But Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan was equal to the challenge – diving full length to turn McDonald's penalty around the post.

Lee Chin – who was having a fascinating individual battle with David Burke – pointed the resultant 65; but Canning hit a 65 for Galway almost immediately.

Gradually the favourites started to turn the screw as they began to dominate and they hit they the next two scores as well to stretch their lead to five for the first time.

Wexford became increasing flustered and hit a couple of silly wides as the Galway half back line took complete control winning a succession of Mark Fanning's puck outs.

With 20 minutes remaining Galway had stretched their lead to nine points and Wexford badly needed a goal to stay afloat. But all the breaks were now going Galway's way though a Lee Chin point in the 51st minute – after the intervention of Hawkeye – stopped the rot.

Better was the follow moments later when Jack Guiney chased what seemed a lost cause on the Galway endline; not alone did he manage to keep the ball in play he beat two defenders and crossed where defender Diarmuid O'Keeffe steered the sliotar to an empty net.

Game on again – with the margin now down to five. A Conor McDonald free made it four before the immaculate Conor Cooney hit his sixth point from play in the 56th minute and then Conor Whelan won a free which Cooney converted to silence the Wexford fans.

A brilliant sideline from Canning and Cooney's seventh point from play meant that by the 60th minute Galway had comfortably wided out Wexford's 1-1. At times though the Galway full back line looked less than assured when under pressure.

Interestingly Joe Canning went back to assist his defence in the last ten minutes but Galway's lack of personnel up front meant that they were inviting Wexford to attack. But the reality was that Wexford had to go for goals at this stage was it was very difficult to break through the Galway cordon.

Galway could afford to replace Canning and Joseph Cooney in the closing minutes as the game petered out. Ultimately Wexford lacked nothing in effort and considering that it was their first Leinster final appearance since 2008 it was a credible effort and their season isn't over yet. They will feature in the All-Ireland quarter final.

While it was far from a perfect Galway performance they still won by nine points are save for the concession of the game's only goal they weren't seriously troubled – particularly in the second half. Wexford though will wonder how the second half might have turned out had McDonald found the net with his penalty effort.

Man of the Match Conor Cooney described it was a very professional job. “We owed them up for earlier in the year (when Wexford beat Galway in the league.” he said.

The official attendance was 60,032- a record for a Leinster hurling final – though there wasn't a single fan standing on the Hill 16/Nally terraces

Galway: C Callinan; A Touhy, Daithi Burke, K Hansbury; P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke (0-1); J Flynn, J Canning (0-10, 8f), 1 65, 1 sideline), J Cooney (0-5); C Whelan, C Cooney (0-8, 1f), N Burke (0-2). Subs: T Monaghan (0-1) for Flynn 31m; S Maloney (0-1) for Canning 68m; G Lally for J Cooney 69m; S Loftus for Mannion 73m

Wexford: M Fanning; W Devereux (0-1); L Ryan, J Breen; S Donohoe, M O'Hanlon (0-2), D O'Keeffe (1-1); S Murphy, L Chin (0-4, 2f, 1 65), J O'Connor (0-1); A Nolan, C McDonald (0-5, 4f); P Morris (0-2), J Guiney, H Kehoe. Subs: D Redmond for O'Connor ht; E Moore for Donohoe 47m; C Dunbar (0-1) for Kehoe 53m; S Tomkins for Nolan 63m

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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