Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Finishing second-best to super team is some consolation'

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

GALWAY'S 'Three Musketeers' management team were insistent that James Skehill's eleventh-hour injury did not throw their preparations off kilter.

They did not quibble too hysterically either over their controversial disallowed goal which saw their fans rain loud boos down on referee James McGrath, but even the usually indefatigable swash had deserted their buckle afterwards.

Manager Anthony Cunningham and his wing-men Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert usually come out with their swords jointly flourishing, but they were not in argumentative mode after such a comprehensive defeat.

Could they take some succour from the fact that they were beaten in a replay by possibly the greatest hurling team of all time?

"We fought tremendously hard, we're extremely proud of our players and I suppose it's one piece of consolation, to be the second best team in Ireland to this super team," an ashen-faced Cunningham reflected.

"But we'll stay knocking on the door. We beat them in a Leinster final this year and we'll want to beat them in an All-Ireland next year, that'll be the aim."

He was insistent that the unfortunate pre-match drama over goalkeeper Skehill, who started despite being rushed to hospital after a fall in their final training session, had not disrupted Galway's preparations or big-day composure.

"He was unfortunate to have fallen awkwardly on it, it was a partial dislocation," Cunningham revealed. "But we had tremendous back-up and it was expertly dealt with by our medical team on Friday night.

"We were (still) in an excellent place, it wasn't over-unsettling," he stressed. "He did tremendously well to get (through) a first half but got a knock on it again when he fell on it .

Surgery

"Fergal (Flannery) came in and did very well and James will be back, there's no doubt about that. He probably just needs a small bit of surgery now on the many knocks he's got, but he gave us a tremendous year."

Cunningham felt that critical six-minute spell in the third quarter, starting with Cyril Donnellan's disallowed goal, was when the game slipped from Galway's grasp.

He said he wasn't sure why McGrath had re-called it for a free but added "look, that's the referee's call. We were very, very unfortunate not to have got the call at that period because we felt we were on top at the time, and small things win matches.

"Joe then had a tremendous shot off the base of the post that came outfield and then Cyril (Donnellan, getting sent off)... it was a hard match but I don't think it was in any way dirty. He was unfortunate as he was our top forward there in the first half, he'd a great chance of a goal before half-time.

"Even though we were four points down at half-time we thought we were well in it and had played very well in the first half, but you need to get the breaks against the best team to ever come out of Kilkenny.

"But we had fought back well, got two great goals and were extremely happy at half-time and just needed to drive it on.

"That's what we did, but the few chances we got went a-begging and that was hard luck, particularly the one he blew up for the free."

Cunningham had said beforehand he had learned to expect the unexpected from Kilkenny, and the pulling of young Walter Walsh from Brian Cody's sleeve had not shocked him.

"Walter's had a tremendous year with the Kilkenny's U-21s and was a tremendous minor. The only surprise for me was that he wasn't on earlier in the year," said Cunningham.

"Cillian Buckley came in and did well too so there's a conveyor belt always in Kilkenny, they are changing a lot of players, so that's a warning for everybody as well."

But Galway stressed that their own talent pool is also well-stocked, pointing out that four of the five subs they sprang were U-21s.

"Galway's on the rise, there's no doubt about that," selector Mattie Kenny said defiantly.

"It's no secret that there's 17 U-21s in our panel, it's a big development process and we gained an awful lot of experience this year that's going to stand to us.

"We came up short today against a top-class Kilkenny team.

"There were two or three incidents around the 45 to 47-minute mark that was the turning point of the game, but we're heading back to Galway and the west proud of what we've achieved and we're going to drive on for next year and the year after. This Galway team is on an upward curve."

As Cunningham said: "We've come so far this year in such a short space of time. You can't train for the experience of finals, but our hurling has come on so strong and the plan will be to kick on."

Irish Independent

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