Thursday 14 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: Tribesmen find missing appetite to devour Rebels

Intensity key as Cunningham’s men secure county’s first quarter-final victory in a decade

Galway’s Joe Canning and Jason Flynn, left, have a frank exchange of views with Cork players, from left, Aidan Walsh, Anthony Nash and Stephen McDonnell in Thurles yesterday
Galway’s Joe Canning and Jason Flynn, left, have a frank exchange of views with Cork players, from left, Aidan Walsh, Anthony Nash and Stephen McDonnell in Thurles yesterday
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

They are the team whose mood cycles might as well be determined by the red glow of a Sacred Heart lamp, but Galway didn't look in need of much prayer here.

True, it's seldom wise to confer too much significance to their good days given how seemingly seismic shifts in their demeanour have, so often in the past, amounted to little more than a cistern flushing. But they scorched Cork with the heat of their hurling yesterday. They played a game that sang with self-belief.

To win a game by 12 points, yet leak almost twice that number of wides, speaks, maybe, of carelessness. But only the type that hurling anoraks could fixate upon.

We got a day when Joe Canning floated through business like a low-profile member of a repertory company, reaching almost double figures in his personal tally of wides, yet the Galway attack carried the explosive detonation of a dynamite cap.


It is stocked with big men now, self-sufficient types all equipped to hurl.

Johnny Glynn had the ball in Anthony Nash's net inside 55 seconds, albeit the etiquette of the Cork defence in allowing him an uninterrupted 60-yard run, followed by hurling's equivalent of a triple toe loop before scoring, would, you have to imagine, have drawn a few derisory snorts in Kilkenny.

Glynn himself admitted afterwards that he was waiting "to be clobbered" only for Cork's defence to all but work like cinema ushers escorting him to a front seat.

"'Twas pure poxy to be honest," the big Ardrahan man smiled in giddy recall. "They all opened up and I just stayed going." The goal hinted, maybe, at the philosophical divide that still separates Cork from the four teams now headed for Croke Park next month. Sometimes it is as if they hurl with too much scruple. As if nothing holds them back quite like their conscience.

And yet there was something redemptive about Galway's appetite to make them suffer.

In Glynn, Jason Flynn, the rampant Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan, an 18-year-old plucked off the intermediates in May, they just carried too much firepower for a team betraying some stylistic discomfort with their recently-adapted sweeper system.

All well and good having an extra body back, but when an incoming forward breaks a tackle (as Galway's did all day), your kitchen is suddenly full of smoke.

Above all, intensity won it for Galway then. It found expression most notably in the minutes leading up to Damien Cahalane's dismissal, Glynn bouncing Lorcan McLoughlin out over the sideline on the Cork substitute's first touch and, seconds later, Daniel Kearney being knocked over like a skittle.

If anything, Cork were at full pelt, yet moving backwards when Aidan Walsh's loose handpass set Joseph Cooney up for an intercept and Cahalane's attempted road-block involved a hand reaching into Cooney's face-guard. There were 20 minutes still remaining then, but Cork were already swinging like men lost in a blizzard.

So a different Galway then? One maybe no longer feeling the weight of the stars overhead?

Canning, who still tagged on 0-5 including a sublime 'line 'cut' from the toes of the Kinane Stand, stopped at the mouth of the dressing-room tunnel to consider that debate.

"I wouldn't say it was clinical," he said impassively. "I don't know what the wide count was in the end, 22 (it was officially tagged at 23)? That's not clinical. I suppose we're creating chances but you know there's huge improvements for the next day.

"It's the first time we've got to August since 2012 and it's the first time we've won a quarter-final since 2005, so it's bonus territory for us really at this stage.

"People talk about 2012, we had one good half in the Leinster final. A mediocre game I suppose in the semi-final and one good half in the first All-Ireland. I'm kind of sick of people talking about a great year in 2012. We didn't win the All-Ireland."


His tone was measured and unemotional. Galway, he told us, were still on a voyage of self-discovery.

"Do you know, we're our own team, we've a lot of young guys coming along there," he reflected. "Whelo's only 18 or 19 but stood up to it there. I don't think anybody really knew who he was before this. Cathal Mannion, Johnny Glynn, these guys are young you know. We just need time and patience and unfortunately we don't get that in Galway.

"There's pressure on everybody, it's a team game. There's pressure on everybody to score and that's the way it should be. We demand more of ourselves every day. We're our own worst critics inside in the dressing-room and inside in Athenry when we're training week in, week out. We're like every other team, striving to be the best that we can be and there's a long way to go yet."

Tipperary will, undeniably, ask sterner questions of them on August 16, but Galway still have an itch to scratch over their collapse against Eamon O'Shea's men last year.

"Yeah I think we were six or seven points up with a few minutes to go," sighed Canning. "We were very annoyed with ourselves to let that slip last year. We've a chance now in three weeks' time to rectify that.

"We need to put pressure on ourselves to perform individually first and get our own game right, then as a team come together. If we can do that week in, week out, we're not too bad at all."

Anthony Cunningham has always argued that an unjust schedule cost Galway last summer. The Tipp game was their third in 13 days and they, essentially, ran out of legs. "That's not fair," said the Galway manager yesterday. "Then you spend the whole summer twiddling your thumbs. We got tired in the last 20 minutes, I've been saying that all year."

For Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the tenor of this defeat was as bruising as the arithmetic.

"It was lost from a long way out," he reflected. "In fairness to the players, they tried their hearts out, but we just weren't good enough. We were comprehensively out-played all over the field.

"The early goal set the standard for the whole game. It was a very soft goal to give away and playing with the wind behind us... it set the tone for the entire game. We seemed to be second to the ball on most occasions.

"Today we just fell short of the standard we'd like to set and Galway were comprehensively better than us." Next year?

"I can't wait for next year," he said defiantly.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Waterford's reward for yet another impressive showing was to book a date with hurling's version of the electric chair.

That's not how Derek McGrath will look at their looming semi-final with Kilkenny of course.

Nor should he. Waterford are already so deep in credit this summer that, no matter their harvest on August 9, they have been the revelations of this hurling year. So can the big two be brought to their knees?

"I don't know who the big two are," grinned Anthony Cunningham.

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