Vincent Hogan: Tribal force steamrolls off-colour Tipp in final slaughter
At the first tint of dusk in Limerick, every Galway voice seemed programmed to reference a history of league finals passing us by, laden with secrets.
What else could they do? Talk up their demolition of the All-Ireland champions as a trustworthy weather vane of what summer might have in store? The evidence before our eyes looked catastrophic for Tipperary.
"No, I can't explain it," said their manager Michael Ryan with impressive candour. "That was the worst performance we've had in the length of time I've been looking after these boys!"
It was well past 6pm when David Burke, still in his playing gear, strolled down the steps of the Mackey Stand, Croke Cup in hand, the old ground oddly solemn without people.
Any slaughter of gentry tends to convulse hurling communities with worry of what it might trigger and there was that palpable sense here of big, contented men just trying to keep a cap on things. Maybe Johnny Coen put it best with his observation: "Although we're happy with this win, we're looking forward to the championship because that's really what defines a player and what defines a team."
Beating Tipp by 16 points wasn't in anybody's script, then. Where did it come from?
Maybe from the fact that Galway can't help themselves but view winning Tipp teams as uppity and conceited. They take a kind of "knew them when they hadn't an arse in their trousers" approach to hearing those bellicose whoops from over the Shannon. It's a sound that can turn even the docile among them dangerous.
Tipp bring something to a Galway hurling mind that, historically, few others manage. They bring clarity. Galway hurl against the blue and gold with the very uncomplicated energy that, too often, eludes them against others.
How often have you heard a preview parsed with "depends on which Galway shows up". In this instance, we pretty much knew which one would show. From the soporific drudge against Limerick seven days earlier sprang a maroon crew programmed to quarrel at an entirely different volume. If they were Stallone in the ring yesterday, against Limerick they'd been a wheezing Burgess Meredith.
Early on, Tipp just couldn't get any air into the lungs of their hurling. Galway's size and their willingness to use it called for a self-sufficiency in Tipp's half-forwards that they simply could not find.
All the preview talk had been about Tipp's capacity for goals.
And here it was being ridiculed. Galway's half-backs and midfield were so much on top, it seemed as if the area around Colm Callanan's goal area had been bequeathed some kind of listed architectural status. It might as well have been closed off to the Tipp attack with ropes.
And Joe Canning's licence to float as a kind of notional centre-forward meant that Ronan Maher spent much of the half jolting forward and back like a learner driver in a car park.
Galway weren't doing anything revolutionary here.
Quite the contrary. Their hurling was faithful to the oldest, most basic hurling philosophy of all. The one about winning individual battles to prosper as a collective. And, by the mid-point, they led 0-11 to 0-5, a scoreline that flattered Tipp.
Then, precisely 49 seconds after the resumption, Jason Flynn's arcing run brought an Ennis Road end goal and that was the knife between Tipp's ribs.
It finished them. Thereafter, it became an exhibition of all the good things about Galway. Size. Aggression. Pace. Work ethic. Physical power.
They brought on Johnny Glynn just after the hour and it felt like sending in Gulliver when the Lilliputians had already packed their bags.
Glynn flies back to New York this morning and remained breezily non-committal about his future trans-Atlantic intentions.
"Just planning every day as it comes," he told us with an oblique smile when it was over. Yet he'd sensed this Galway storm brew.
"Like I came back to training a few weeks ago," he said, "and I was a long way off the pace, so I knew well the boys were flying it. I know I've to get to that level now, so we'll see later in the year!"
Tipp's attack, those free-wheeling wizards we've seen leave so many opponents dizzy, summoned just 0-2 from play in the opening 35 minutes. It was like seeing Pavarotti having to settle for coins tossed to the pavement.
Deep down, this Tipp team just hopes to burn people off. When that doesn't happen, they can look discomfited. Rattled even. They have blinding touch and glorious vision but, without Seamus Callanan, perhaps they lack a fulcrum, a reference point from which to find some structure.
Three of their starting forwards did not register a score from play and a fourth, John McGrath, got his only in the 72nd minute. By then, Galway had mined two more goals and were so comfortable they might as well have been getting their nails manicured.
Tipp were bullied essentially. Beaten by men who did nothing more uncomplicated than invade their space.
"The big thing was not to concede a goal and we didn't, so we should be happy with that side of it anyway," said Pádraic Mannion who'd seen Steven O'Brien off the premises in just over half an hour.
But Mannion's voice was tuned low now too. He deployed expressions like 'stepping-stones' and 'work-rate the key' and 'result a bonus' and 'just looking for consistency', echoing all of the gentle wisdoms favoured by his manager, Micheál Donoghue.
There was no table-thumping then. No tribal war-cry declaring this some giant leap forward for the men in maroon. Beating Tipp with a great firestorm of scores was, well, best not to over-analyse.
This, after all, is the third consecutive year a 1B team has taken the Croke Cup, yet the previous two did not hurl into September. Galway then, derided by their own a couple of months back when beaten by Wexford in Salthill, are April champions. Nothing more.
"I've been involved in games like this, I've played in games like this and it's not nice," said Ryan. "It'll hurt nobody more than our players. Like, that's not this team. It's the flattest performance we've ever produced and it's very disappointing that that comes on the day of a national final."