Thursday 14 December 2017

'We'll pick ourselves up and go again' - Davy Fitzgerald

2 July 2017; The Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan saves a 40th minute penalty for Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
2 July 2017; The Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan saves a 40th minute penalty for Wexford during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Still two more rivers to cross but Galway are beginning to make a hollow mockery of any notion that they might be unworthy of people's trust.

Their fidelity to size makes them unropable in many ways. They have gone with the novel idea that tactics might be just irksome small-print if you assemble a big enough team with sufficient adhesive in their palms to grab any sliotar descending to within nine feet of the grass.

It will never catch on surely.

Wexford emptied themselves of all they had here but, long before the finish, Micheál Donoghue's men had the blithe air of well-fed diners looking around for toothpicks. And this without Joe Canning or Conor Whelan summoning a score from play between them.

In another time, their crown prince and best young gun-slinger drawing such blanks might have cursed them. But this Galway team is beginning to cast a prodigious shadow.

Canning and Whelan both had fine games as it happens, they simply weren't required to uproot trees when, by their shoulders, Conor and Joseph Cooney were having the kind of days that had people tempted to touch the hem of their garments. Little wonder Donoghue's eyes shone with something like a gambler's certainty after.


Because, once Galway remembered themselves here, they were out the gap and gone.

Wexford did test their gumption early on, as you always knew a Davy Fitz team was guaranteed to do. Just ten minutes in, the normally unflappable Donoghue had to be counselled about his temper, John Hansbury having been penalised for barrelling into Diarmuid O'Keeffe by the toes of the Hogan Stand.

Conor McDonald duly nailed a monster free, tying the score at 0-3 each. And Davy? He was away up somewhere in the stand, doing his knitting.

The romanticists decry his use of sweeper as if it represents some kind of negative betrayal of the old game. He doesn't exactly crave their approbation, but he does wonder about their wisdom. After all, three of Wexford's seven first-half scorers happened to be backs, fully licensed to bomb forward.

Davy's seclusion couldn't last and, of course, it didn't. By the 20th minute, he was back with us, his team bouncing the white giants down dead-end streets. It was claustrophobic and epic and, if Galway eventually got down the tunnel with a three point halfway advantage, you had the sense of a loud ringing in their ears.

And Donoghue confirmed it.

"I thought the first half we got away from what got us here and you have to give Wexford a lot of credit for that," he told us later, down in the media auditorium. "But at half-time, that was just the message. Go back to ourselves and try and impose ourselves.

"I just thought early on we were nearly second to the ball, maybe more reactive than anything else. I won't say we stood off them, but I just thought we were more reactive than trying to impose our own game."

It took them time to recalibrate, Hawk-Eye ruling out a McDonald free and Colm Callanan then saving a penalty from the same Wexford man all within four minutes of the resumption. But ten minutes after that penalty? Galway led by nine, their job all but done except for the small technicality of time still left on the clock. It was breathtaking and, in some respects, a pity. Because hurling will seldom have a sterile summer when Wexford are throwing shapes.

They flood the big days with such florid enthusiasm, the game feels different around them. It changes its shape, its personality. Its social position almost. A year ago, the Leinster final drew 27,000 paying customers. Yesterday brought in excess of twice that to Croke Park, a record Leinster final attendance, with the bulk of it yellow and purple.


So it's hard to be ambivalent when they play because Wexford people invest so much of themselves in service to the hope that their thunder can help a team outstretch conventional limits. The giddy energy Davy Fitz has aroused in them made anything seem possible. But this was a gap too wide to bridge through tactic.

Shaun Murphy's occupation as a sweeper all but became superfluous as Galway began picking ball from the July sky as if held aloft on invisible cables. The pressure they began imposing on Mark Fanning's puck-outs became intolerable, Davy eventually encountering the ire of the fourth official for bolting from his area to suggest Fanning try a different playbook. Just minutes before, on the hour exactly, a Wexford puck-out having gone straight out of play on the Cusack Stand side, Canning cut the line ball imperiously between the posts. Their authority was imperious, borderline cruel.

From the clammy discomfort of the first half, they scored at ease and at will in the second. True, O'Keeffe's 52nd-minute goal - following heroic, burrowing work from Jack Guiney - almost blew the roofs off the stands. But, after McDonald added a huge free, Galway nailed eight of the next ten scores.

Their aerial dominance simply short-circuited everything Wexford tried, albeit Fitzgerald suspected much of it, ultimately, became psychological.

"I think that happened when...when you have that momentum and you're looking good, it's a lot easier to catch them balls," he suggested. "I could tell that we were half doubting ourselves at times. And when you're doubting yourself, you're not going to contest those balls the way you should.

"Like they didn't catch a whole pile of them in the first 20, 25 minutes. When we lost our way a small bit, they capitalised. If you weigh it up, most of that team have played in four Leinster finals at least. They've played in two All-Irelands. That's by far the biggest day we've played in, 60,000 people. My guys aren't used to playing anything remotely like that.

"We just need to not feel sorry for ourselves now and just pick ourselves up and go again."

In the end, this was no blowsy surrender. Wexford stayed hurling to the finish and had heroic performances right across the field. The difference was Galway had regal ones.

Some of the Westerners' hurling through the closing flurries was stamped with such authority and easy self-assurance, the idea that they are ready to cross that great canyon that divides them from the team of '88 seemed to find compelling expression.

Long after the field had emptied, Conor Hayes - the last Galway man to lift Liam MacCarthy - stood high in the Hogan Stand, talking excitedly to local radio about a team now threatening to turn back time.

Maybe Galway people should, instinctively, grow queasy at the commotion blowing their team's way. But this feels different. Can they do it?

"Yeah they'll be favourites and they won't be happy with just winning Leinster," agreed Davy Fitz, before sounding a note of caution.

"But I still think this race is anybody's. I don't think it's a forgone conclusion."

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