Limerick 3-16 Galway 2-18
A hue of green hangs over Croke Park as Limerick celebrate their first All-Ireland win in 45 years. The famine is over as the Treaty County – so often the bridesmaid on hurling's biggest day – finally got over the finish line to secure the county's eighth All-Ireland success.
It has been a remarkable journey for John Kiely's youthful squad. On the way they beat the last three All-Ireland winners and having overcome the game's other aristocratic power Cork in the semi-final, nobody could question the merit of their triumph.
From the early exchanges when they raced into a 0-3 lead, they looked the better side and helped by a 17th-minute goal from Graeme Mulcahy, they fully deserved their four-point interval advantage. Goals from Tom Morrissey and substitute Shane Dowling, after a misplaced Galway puck out, left Limerick eight points clear in the 68th minute.
But with eight minutes of injury time announced it give Galway a second chance and, in an incredible finish, they nearly snatched what would have been a fortunate draw. Goals from Conor Whelan and one direct from a free from Joe Canning – who scored 1-10 – left two points between the sides.
Though substitute Niall Burke left it a one-point game, Graeme Mulcahy doubled Limerick's advantage and ultimately it proved the winning score, though they had to survive a massive Galway onslaught in the epic finish when Canning made it a one-point game and then had a chance to equalise from a massive free but it just fell short. Suddenly all the agonies of the past had disappeared. There would be no repeat of what happened in the 1994 final.
Limerick's last All-Ireland captain in 1973, Eamon Grimes, had a horse named after him so Declan Hannon and his 19 colleagues who graced the field are guaranteed hero status in their native county.
It was a bitterly disappointing afternoon for defending title holders and favourites Galway. After a marathon championship they finally fell at the ninth and final hurdle. Remarkably it was the county's 20th loss in an All-Ireland senior decider and their third in the last seven years. But it was only in the closing stages that they hit form and really they couldn't complain about the final outcome.
It was all Limerick in the early exchanges and though their finishing was suspect with Aaron Gillane missing two early chances, they were 0-3 to no score ahead by the sixth minute after points from Gillane, Kyle Hayes – who intercepted a mis-directed Galway clearance – and Graeme Mulachy.
Once the game settled down Limerick deployed a two-man full forward line of Gillane and Mulcahy; their early dominance which continued throughout the first half owned much to the accuracy of Nickie Quaid's puck outs.
He targeted the left side of the Galway defence and the success of the strategy was reflected in the fact that Limerick only gave up one of their first half re-starts.
Galway had far more problems keeping possession from James Skehill's puck-outs even though the keeper varied the length of them. The Limerick defence was dominant and the champions were largely dependent on Canning's placed balls to keep them in touch.
Still, by the end of the first quarter Galway appeared to have weathered Limerick's early onslaught which was underlined by some very inaccurate finishing. A 16th-minute point from Joseph Cooney - the first from play to be scored by a Galway forward – gave them a one-point advantage (0-6; 0-5).
But the lead was short-lived as Limerick struck for a goal soon afterwards. Centre forward Kyle Hayes did the initial work on the left flank and Mulcahy picked up his pass and went past his marker before losing possession. Advancing Galway keeper Skehill seemed to have the danger covered but the sliotar appeared to slip under his body and Mulcahy followed up to guide the loose ball over the line.
Inspired by the goal Limerick enjoyed another spell of dominance and although they were guilty of missing a plethora of chances – by half time they had hit 11 wides – they extended their lead to five points by the 27th minute helped in no small measure by two inspirational points from team captain and centre back Hannon.
Galway too were guilty of some woeful shooting – they hit ten first-half wides – with Conor Cooney responsible for three of them and Canning and Padraig Mannion hitting two each. But three points on the spin from David Burke – his second from play – a Canning free and Joseph Cooney left just two points between the sides 90 seconds into injury time at the end of the half.
But Limerick underlined their mental fortitude by driving forward and getting the last two scores of the half from a Gillane free and an excellent effort from play from full forward Seamus Flanagan to give them a deserved 1-10 to 0-9 advantage at the break.
It was the first time in the 2018 championship that Galway had trailed at half time and it was a measure of how poorly they performed in the half that Cooney was their only forward to score from play. Meanwhile, five of Limerick's forwards had got on the score sheet. Overall though the game hadn't really caught fire.
Kyle Hayes gave a tour de force performance in the early stages of the second half, hitting three wonderful points. Galway had switched John Hanbury onto the centre forward but the move wasn't working. Diarmuid Byrnes also hit one from long range with Galway's solitary reply coming from Cooney.
By the 40th minute Limerick had extended their lead by seven points and their fans had started to believe. As the game began to slip from Galway's grasp Niall Burke was introduced after 45 minutes but Limerick just appeared to have more energy than the defending title holders. The nature of their performance was underlined in the 46th minute when their best forward on the day, Joseph Cooney, lost sight of the flight of a cross-field pass and the sliotar rolled harmlessly over the sideline.
Joe Canning hit his first point from play in the 50th minute to reduce the deficit to seven points but Limerick still had all the momentum, though they lost full-back Mike Casey through injury. It was a six-point game soon afterwards when Canning scored again.
But down on the field Limerick were showing no sign of nerves and they made a huge breakthrough in the 54th minute when Tom Morrissey dispossessed Gearoid McInerney, drove forward and held his nerve to beat Skehill from close range.
It took a brilliant save from Skehill to deny Seamus Flanagan in the 57th minute after Cian Lynch set up the chance. The 'keeper was injured in the process and had to be replaced. Remarkably it was the second time he had to retire injured in an All-Ireland final – he also had to leaved the field in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay.
By now Shane Dowling had entered the fray and Galway had used five of their substitutes as they attempted to shore up their leaky defence.
But points from Burke and Canning (2) revived Galway's hopes but they proved short-lived; a short puck out from replacement keeper Fergal Flannery was intercepted by Peter Casey who linked up with Dowling and he make no mistake from close range, hitting Limerick's third goal.
Still, with eight minutes of injury time there was still time for Galway. Conor Whelan finally breached the Limerick defence on the stroke of full-time to revive their flagging hopes and it took an excellent save from keeper Nickie Quaid to deny Cooney in the 74th minute. Galway were awarded a close-in free and Canning drove it confidently to the roof of the net to leave two between the sides.
It was a one-point game soon afterwards when a rare mistake in the Limerick defence allowed substitute Niall Burke point. But Limerick held their nerve and Graeme Mulcahy hit a priceless point; Canning replied with a 65 and in an incredible finish had a chance to equalise with a monster free from the Hogan Stand side on his own 45, but his effort dropped short and Tom Condon grabbed the sliotar and the referee blew the final whistle to end an incredible contest. The Limerick famine was over.
Galway; J Skehill; A Touhey, Dáithí Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke (0-3); J Cooney (0-3), J Canning (1-10, 1-0 free, 5f, 2 65) J Glynn; C Whelan (1-0), C Cooney, C Mannion Subs: N Burke (0-1) for C Mannion 45m; P Killeen for Hanbury 56m; J Flynn for Conor Cooney 58m; S Loftus for Coen 60m; F Flannery for Skehill (injured) 60m
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English D Byrnes (0-1), D Hannon (0-2), D Morrissey; D O'Donovan (0-1), C Lynch (0-1); G Hegarty, K Hayes (0-4), T Morrissey (1-1); A Gillane (0-3, 2f), S Flanagan (0-1), G Mulachy (1-2). Subs: R McCarthy for Casey 49m; S Dowling (1-0) for Hegarty 55m; P Casey for Flanagan 63m; W O'Donoghue for O'Donovan 66m; T Condon for English 73m
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)
We are all Hurling Man now. In the middle of the fourth century the Roman Emperor Julian tried to counter the spread of Christianity by promoting the old pagan religion. He failed and his final words, as he lay dying after the Battle of Samarra, were, “Vicisti, Galilaee,” (You have won, Galilean).