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Galway's helping hand in hurling summer's great opera


Kilkenny manager Brian Cody shakes hands with Galway boss Anthony Cunningham after their Leinster semi-final replay earlier this summer. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody shakes hands with Galway boss Anthony Cunningham after their Leinster semi-final replay earlier this summer. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE


Kilkenny manager Brian Cody shakes hands with Galway boss Anthony Cunningham after their Leinster semi-final replay earlier this summer. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

There's a team buried in your recycling bin that, maybe, deserves recognition this week.

Why? Because that perfect, rolling symphony of an All-Ireland hurling final had third party fingerprints all over it last Sunday.

Remember Galway? Just now, they might prefer you didn't, but if it wasn't for the MRI Anthony Cunningham's boys exposed Kilkenny and Tipperary to earlier this summer, it's a moot point if either would have made it to September.

Both were damaged goods stepping from the foothills of this Championship, both managed to fix themselves with the help of contrary Galway questions.

That won't comfort Cunningham of course. His team was parked up on blocks by the first weekend of July and, just now, he finds himself treated as some kind of under-qualified job applicant by a county board lamentably unconvincing in selling a persuasive vision of the county's hurling future.

So it is as if Galway never really existed in this Championship when, in actual fact, they'll be king-makers.

Put it this way, if Kilkenny win the replay this day fortnight, how much of it will be down to Brian Cody biting the bullet on Jackie Tyrrell as an inter-county centre-back and his re-invention of Conor Fogarty as a defensive midfielder?

If Tipperary win, how much will it be to do with Eamon O'Shea's acceptance that the Russian Roulette of trapping, arguably, your most influential hurler at full-back was always destined to end badly?

Cody recalibrated Kilkenny defensively after that bizarre, late concession of three goals in five minutes at O'Connor Park on June 22. He recalled Brian Hogan for the replay and sent Tyrrell back to his more natural environment of left corner. Both have flourished since.

Publicly, Cody was sanguine that evening in Tullamore, despite his men surrendering an eight-point lead with ten minutes to play. Privately? He will have looked upon it as a repudiation of everything he holds dear about Kilkenny hurling. He will have seethed.

Cunningham remarked after the game "Every time you play Kilkenny you learn." The problem for countless opponents across the years, of course, is that Cats learn too. They won the replay by eight points. Tipperary's moment of awakening was almost more specific. On July 5, their qualifier against Galway in Semple Stadium had just slipped into the 45th minute when Johnny Glynn caught a high delivery towards the Tipp 'square' and scored his second goal in six minutes.

The acoustic from the stands will have sounded resolutely sour to O'Shea's ears as Galway eased five-points clear, the manager instantly switching Maher with centre-back, James Barry.

Maher's liberation sent a frisson through the rest of the Tipp defence and they began to hurl with a natural aggression that had, hitherto, been absent.

Better still, Barry had the intelligence not to engage in a catching duel with Glynn, settling instead for crafty flicks and nudges that prevented ball going to hand.

Eight minutes after the switch, Seamus Callanan nailed the second of his three goals, Tipp racing away to win the remainder by 1-9 to 0-1.

Maybe O'Shea was playing mind games afterwards, nominally restoring Maher to the edge of the square for Tipp's next outing against Offaly.

We say nominally because, against opponents who would be beaten by 17 points, Maher hurled that evening in Portlaoise with licence from management to go on safari whenever the impulse took him.

Today, of course, Maher still wears three and Barry six, their shirt numbers a lie.

Glynn had set Tipp a problem, just as Aisake O'hAilpin did in 2010, the solving of which transformed them as contenders. The direct running of Conor Cooney and Joe Canning did likewise for Kilkenny.

So spare a thought for the men in maroon this week as National Geographic magazine trumpets the glaringly obvious fact that "attending an All-Ireland is the experience of a lifetime."

It was that and more last Sunday. But the greatness Kilkenny and Tipp brought to such epic expression in Croke Park had to be hard-won through the stress tests of early summer. Neither is quite as powerful as they were during that famous trilogy of finals but, even in gradual decline, they have somehow managed to locate the best of themselves.

Galway, more than anyone, forced them both do that. How? By asking the right questions.

Could hindsight eventually bless them with a kinder status?


Furlong story tells truly remarkable tale

In an era when so many autobiographies are virtual one-liners, there's something re-assuring when a truly great sports book hits the shelves.

'The Furlongs - The Story of a Remarkable Family' sails effortlessly into that category, tracing not just an extraordinarily broad family narrative, but also shining a light into Ireland's unflattering history of failure to keep its young at home.

Martin is the best-known of the Furlongs. A three-time All-Ireland winner and Offaly's goalkeeper when they famously ended Kerry's five-in-a-row dreams in '82, his penalty save from Mike Sheehy became a truly iconic GAA moment.

Slightly less familiar to an Irish audience would be his brothers, Mickey, John and Tom. Their family story has been threaded together quite beautifully by sportswriter, Pat Nolan, tracing the most compelling episodes of glory, sadness and personal resilience.

The most startling tale belongs to Tom, who emigrated to New York at the age of 20 and briefly flirted with a career in the NFL as a kicker. A chance conversation in Jim Downey's bar on 44th Street and Eighth Avenue led to him being drafted onto the extended staff of the New York Giants in '65.

After a year, he moved to the Atlanta Falcons where his salary of $800 a game dwarfed the £200 a week Denis Law was getting as the then highest paid footballer in England.

Sadly injury quickly crushed the dream, but it you want to lose yourself between the covers of a wonderful book, try this offering from Ballpoint Press.


Leamy may have solution to penalty dilemma

So what does the GAA do with hurling penalties now that it's clear they've solved one problem by creating another?

Tipperary's experience in last Sunday's astonishing All-Ireland final simply confirmed the growing suspicion that, in reining Anthony Nash in, the rule-makers tipped the balance overwhelmingly back in favour of the defending team.

Neither Seamus Callanan nor John O'Dwyer looked entirely convincing trying to beat three men from outside the 20 metre line and it's thought that Liam Sheedy and his Hurling 2020 Committee will now recommend a trial of one-against-one from 25 metres in next year's National League.

Former Tipp goalkeeper, John Leamy, believes the key to rescuing the hurling penalty is insisting that all frees inside the D must be roll-lifted in future.

Leamy intends to frame this proposal in motion form later this year as he argues the most fearsome penalty takers in his day were always the purest of strikers, men who required no run-up.

Could it be that they key to the future lies in studying the past?

Irish Independent