Whelan quality fires Galway to upset final odds
Galway 3-21 Tipperary 0-14
Who saw this coming? Not Galway, who would never have expected such an easy day; not the general hurling public, who anticipated another ding-dong shoot-out and certainly not Tipperary, whose supporters left the Gaelic Grounds wondering when last did the county produce such a dismal performance in a major final.
The 16-point margin was the largest in a league final since 1979 when, ironically, Galway lost to Tipperary. In truth, yesterday's gap could have been greater, as Galway shot 17 wides and also dropped a few shots short into Darren Gleeson's welcoming hand.
The day went from bad, to worse, to awful for Tipperary, who never came remotely close to living up to their reputation.
They were truly awful at times, swept aside by opposition which gradually came to realise that they could not only win, but also inflict a massive defeat on the All-Ireland champions.
Tipperary, in contrast, looked like a side who had accepted from a long way out that the ambition of becoming the first side from the county since 1965 to take the league title in the season after winning the All-Ireland wasn't going to materialise.
From there on, almost all of their power supplies closed down, whereas Galway's energy levels soared, leaving Tipperary a distant speck in the rear view mirrors.
It was the ultimate collapse by Tipperary, leaving them with a major rebooting challenge before hosting Cork in Thurles in the Munster quarter-final on May 21.
Cork will certainly be encouraged by what they saw yesterday. Admittedly, it would be wrong to place too much emphasis on one bad performance by Tipperary, but Kieran Kingston and his fellow-strategists will still have taken note of the areas where Galway prospered.
It started in the half-back line, where Galway trio Pádraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney and Aidan Harte, supported by midfielder David Burke, who dropped back to fill gaps as they appeared, set an agenda which baffled Tipperary.
And when that inevitably led to increased pressure on the Tipperary defence, Galway raised questions which often went unanswered.
Conor Whelan tormented Cathal Barrett on the left side, Jason Flynn made considerable progress on the right wing and, in between, Joe Canning's excellent positional sense took him to the right place often enough to add greatly to Tipperary's load.
The Galway attack moved so well that the absence of Conor Cooney - replaced pre-match by Niall Burke - in no way reduced their overall potency.
Indeed, were it not for wayward shooting, Galway would have been much further ahead at half-time.
Instead, they led by six points (0-11 to 0-5) after only one Tipperary forward, Noel McGrath, had scored from open play. The absence of the injured Seamus Callanan was acutely felt by Tipperary, not only for his proven ability to disrupt defences, but also for his accuracy from placed balls.
John McGrath did not have a good day in the latter role, shooting three wides (two 65s and one free) in the first-half. Tipperary missed some other good chances too, but, on the basis that an improvement was likely in the second-half, they would have felt at half-time that the day could be saved.
Galway have often had an uneasy relationship with the opening stages of second halves in finals, which would have been a further source of encouragement to Tipperary as they listened to Michael Ryan's half-time talk.He would have stressed the need to raise intensity levels straight from the throw-in, but instead it was Galway who made the early break when Flynn whizzed in for a goal after 40 seconds.
Suddenly, the steep hill facing Tipperary had transformed into a mountain. They might, on another occasion, have had the resilience to take it on, but not yesterday. Galway led by 11 points at the three-quarter mark and while Tipperary scored the next two points, they needed a goal to ignite a possible comeback.
It rarely looked like coming, certainly until very late on, by which stage Galway had added two more goals, one from Flynn (57), the other from Cathal Mannion (67).
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue was in the happy position of being able to slot in five subs in the closing 10 minutes, knowing that a first league title since 2010 had already been safely secured.
Included on the substitutes' list was Jonathan Glynn, who came on just after the hour mark and looked very much at ease with the pace and tempo, despite plying his trade in much less demanding surrounds for the last year.
Glynn will be a big addition to what is already a physically powerful attack.
Whelan isn't as tall as his colleagues, but carries a real threat in the ground wars, especially when his touch is good, as was very much the case yesterday.
The Kinvara sharpshooter set the mood with some slick interventions and it quickly became apparent that Galway were more driven than the opposition, who played like a team that expected things to happen, rather than making them happen.
Brendan Maher and Michael Breen had some good moments, but in terms of general application and cohesion, there was no comparison between yesterday's effort and the excellent performances which took Tipperary to All-Ireland glory last year.
They hit Wexford for 5-18 in the league semi-final, but found it much more difficult to make progress yesterday against a tigerish defence.
Galway's touch was good and they also covered well for each other, so that even when the ball went to ground, the mop-up operation was under maroon-and-white control.
Galway's defensive solidity restricted Tipperary's starting six forwards to 0-5 between them from open play, a return they have often accumulated in the first 15 minutes.
Was it an isolated wipeout or a sign of something more serious? Only time will tell, but in fairness to Tipp, they were so out of sorts yesterday that it's more likely to be a one-off.
The management decided to play midfielder Jason Forde, who is facing suspension after an incident in the clash with Wexford, but he had a very quiet game - which is hardly surprising given the distraction in recent days. Tipperary will take his case to the Central Hearings Committee in an attempt to have his two-match ban overturned.
Meanwhile, Galway followed in the footsteps of Waterford and Clare, who also won the league from Division 1B over the last two years.
Despite this stunning victory, though, Galway will be in 1B again in 2018, having lost out to Wexford for the promotion slot.
Scorers - Galway: J Canning 0-9 (3f, 2'65's), J Flynn 2-1, C Whelan 0-5, C Mannion 1-1, A Harte 0-2, David Burke, J Coen, T Monaghan 0-1 each. Tipperary: J McGrath 0-6 (5f), N McGrath, R Maher (2f), M Breen 0-2 each, B Maher, J O'Dwyer (f) 0-1 each.
Galway: C Callanan; A Tuohy, Daithi Burke, P Killeen; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke; C Mannion, J Canning, J Cooney; J Flynn, N Burke, C Whelan. Subs: J Glynn for Canning (62), J Hanbury for Daithi Burke (66), C Donnellan for N Burke ( 68), T Monaghan for Flynn (69), S Loftus for Killeen (70).
Tipperary: D Gleeson; C Barrett, J Barry, M Cahill; S Kennedy, R Maher, Padraic Maher; B Maher, J Forde; D McCormack, M Breen, S O'Brien; N McGrath, J O'Dwyer, J McGrath. Subs: N O'Meara for O'Brien (32), Patrick Maher for O'Dwyer (46), T Hamill for Cahill (60), P Flynn for Forde (60), D Quinn for N McGrath (67),
Ref - C Lyons (Cork)