Limerick 0-27 Galway 1-21: John Kiely's Treaty take on Cats on July 17 in bid to win third Liam MacCarthy Cup in succession
The three-in-a-row dream remains intact, but only after a titanic battle of wits and iron will in Croke Park this afternoon.
In front of a rapt attendance of 52,215, John Kiely’s Limerick were shaken like never before during this three-year odyssey by a Galway team that defied lowly expectations and their 4/1 pre-match odds to push the champions to the brink.
Only in the closing minutes of a pulsating second half did the challengers start to physically flag, and Limerick sub David Reidy inflicted the killer blows, scoring his second and third points of a crucial cameo to edge his team two clear in injury-time.
Diarmaid Byrnes’ deadball striking was another key feature of that second half – five of his six converted frees came after half-time, the final one pushing Limerick three clear just as the five signalled minutes of stoppage time had elapsed.
One final Galway play into the Limerick goalmouth was gobbled up by Kyle Hayes – later voted RTÉ’s Man of the Match – and Waterford referee Thomas Walsh sounded the final bell seconds later.
Some of the second half decisions from Walsh and his team of officials had infuriated losing boss Henry Shefflin, who was yellow-carded along with Paul Kinnerk after a touchline war of words with the Limerick coach.
Still, even in painful defeat, Shefflin can glean great pride from his Galway charges who reserved the best of a topsy-turvy campaign until the very last.
They recovered from a disastrous start, falling five points down, to hurl up a storm for much of the remainder.
They still trailed by four at the interval, but Cathal Mannion’s point was quickly followed by the game’s only goal, in the 37th minute, Brian Concannon outfielding Mike Casey from a searching long delivery and roofing a stunning shot beyond Nickie Quaid.
Aaron Gillane, after a near-flawless first half, they betrayed feet of clay with a missed free before Joseph Cooney pointed Galway into a 44th minute lead.
From there to the finish, momentum swayed back and forth – the teams were level seven times in total during a breathless second half, and there was never more than a point in it until the dying minutes.
This was all so contrary to the pre-match script. In the build-up, perhaps the most cogent argument for a Galway ambush wasn’t even shrouded in much logic at all. If Kilkenny could rip up the Munster hurling form graph so emphatically, against Clare last night, then maybe Galway weren’t too far off the Limerick benchmark after all.
So went the theory.
This discounted the reality of Galway’s impoverished form graph, not just in the Leinster final against the Cats but also, to a less obvious degree, against Cork last day out.
Their hopes were further weakened by pre-match confirmation that Gearóid McInerney had failed a fitness test on his injured knee. This necessitated a reshuffle, with Joseph Cooney reverting from wing-forward to wing-back and Jason Flynn promoted in attack.
And Flynn made an immediate impression, blocking down a Diarmuid Byrnes shot in the preamble to Tom Monaghan’s opening Galway score inside 30 seconds.
False dawn or a sign of things to come? Very quickly, we appeared to have our answer. Aaron Gillane (with 0-3) and Séamus Flanagan (with 0-2) stormed out of the blocks with a necklace of eye-catching points, Gillane proving far too slippery for Daithí Burke and Flanagan clipping two touchline points off Jack Grealish.
When Will O’Donoghue got in on the scoring act, the two-in-a-row champions led by 0-6 to 0-1 after just eight minutes.
It wasn’t that Galway were struggling for oxygen: they had already shot four wides inside three-and-a-half minutes, a costly tally that would rise to a dozen by half-time.
Their scattergun shooting appeared to be summed up by Conor Cooney fluffing a 25m free straight into Nickie Quaid’s hands.
But, gradually at first, then in a shell-burst of three quick points around the half-hour mark, they started to gnaw away at Limerick’s lead.
Monaghan played an important role in the comeback, bringing his first half haul to three from play. David Burke’s penetrating burst through a crowded centrefield, to set up another score for his midfield partner Ronan Glennon, offered further encouragement.
There was still a sense that Limerick were doing just enough to keep the Tribesmen at arm’s length, and Barry Nash’s brilliant score after a one-two with Dan Morrissey, eased their lead back out to four.
But after Pádraic Mannion (from a long-range free) and the livewire Gillane had exchanged points, Galway hit three on the bounce in barely a minute – a Cooney free and two in a row from Cathal Mannion.
The gap was down to one but, if the holders were rattled, it wasn’t evident in their finish to the half, three unanswered points to leave them 0-16 to 0-12 clear at the midpoint.
Scorers – Limerick: A Gillane 0-8 (2f), D Byrnes 0-6f, K Hayes, D Reidy 0-3 each, S Flanagan 0-2, W O’Donoghue, G Hegarty, B Nash, D Hannon, T Morrissey 0-1 each. Galway: C Cooney 0-5 (4f), T Monaghan, C Mannion 0-4 each, B Concannon 1-0, P Mannion (1f), R Glennon, C Whelan 0-2 each, J Cooney, F Burke 0-1 each.
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; W O’Donoghue, D O’Donovan; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Mulcahy. Subs: P Casey for Mulcahy (55), C Lynch for T Morrissey (57), D Reidy for O’Donovan (61), C O’Neill for Hegarty (63), C Boylan for Flanagan (67).
Galway: E Murphy; D Morrissey, J Grealish, Daithí Burke; J Cooney, P Mannion, F Burke; R Glennon, David Burke; T Monaghan, C Cooney, J Flynn; C Mannion, B Concannon, C Whelan. Subs: C Fahy for Flynn (53), J Coen for Glennon (64), E Niland for David Burke (67), K Cooney for C Cooney (75).
Referee: T Walsh (Waterford).