Sport Hurling

Saturday 16 December 2017

Fourteen weeks ago, Galway lost to Kilkenny by 25 points but, after their stunning Leinster final victory, manager Anthony Cunningham is determined it won't prove another false dawn

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GALWAY manager Anthony Cunningham and captain Fergal Moore are beating the same drum as they attempt to hammer out a clear message to euphoric supporters that Sunday's win over Kilkenny is no more than a staging post along a road where heavy ambushes await.

Winning a first Leinster title in such dramatic circumstances was cause for short-term celebration but since Galway's decision to move east was designed solely to help their All-Ireland prospects, hosting the Bob O'Keeffe Cup for the winter won't mean a whole lot unless it's followed by more progress.

Whether that extends to winning a first All-Ireland title since 1988 remains to be seen but in order to give themselves the best opportunity of achieving it, Galway need to figure out how to cope with circumstances which have proved problematic in the past.

They delivered stunning performances as outsiders in the 1975, '79, '85, '86, '93, 2001 and '05 All-Ireland semi-finals, only to lose all seven finals to Kilkenny (3), Cork (2), Tipperary (1), and Offaly (1).

It's somewhat different this time as the unexpected win against the odds came in a provincial final but the general backdrop remains the same.

"We've had great days in Croke Park in the past and not built on them. We need consistency -- that's the big challenge for all of us now -- players and management," said Cunningham.

"It's the big message we'll have for the next four or five weeks. It (consistency) hasn't always been there but we'll work on it. It will be our new mantra."

He has first-hand knowledge of how Galway surges can be followed by slumps, having played a key role in the enterprising forward play that helped Galway to an 11-point win over Kilkenny in the 1986 All-Ireland semi-final.

However, four weeks later, Galway were much less efficient in the final, losing to Cork by four points.

More recently, it happened in 2005 when, after putting 5-18 past Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, Galway lost to Cork in the final by five points.

So, while Galway's delight at Sunday's win is understandable, they know it's the start, rather than the culmination, of a process.

"It was enough to win a Leinster final but it won't win an All-Ireland semi-final for us. We are well aware of that," said Fergal Moore.

realistic

Cunningham, Moore and the rest of the camp are realistic enough to understand that Kilkenny came nowhere close to reaching their usual proficiency levels on Sunday and while their defeat opens up the championship, the black-and-amber will remain a huge influence.

Still, from a Galway perspective, there was a sense of liberation about Sunday's win.

After six successive seasons of failing to reach an All-Ireland semi-final, questions were being asked about their hurling character and whether it was sufficiently robust to cope with real pressure at senior level.

Cunningham's arrival as manager after steering the U-21s to an All-Ireland title last year was followed by a major overhaul of the panel.

Five of last year's U-21's were aboard the starting line-up on Sunday, with six more on the subs, as Cunningham chose newcomers who had grown accustomed to success at underage level to join experienced campaigners like Moore, Damien Hayes, David Collins, Joe Canning and Tony Og Regan.

It brought mixed results in the league where, among their three defeats from five Division 1A outings, was a 25-point humiliation against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on April 1.

Seven of last year's U-21s started that day, only to be wiped out in the first half in much the same way as Galway overwhelmed Kilkenny last Sunday.

Kilkenny, for whom 10 of last Sunday's team started the league game, led by 3-12 to 0-6 at half-time, en route to a 3-26 to 0-10 win.

"A big learning experience for a young team," remarked Cunningham afterwards.

Fourteen weeks later, they proved they had learned enough to cope with the most powerful squad in the land which, in the interim, had added Henry Shefflin to their strike force.

Unquestionably, Cunningham's biggest challenge now rests in building further momentum while controlling the inevitable hype which will erupt in Galway.

Since losing to Kilkenny in early April and drawing with Dublin in a relegation play-off two weeks later, Galway have beaten Dublin (replay), Westmeath, Offaly and Kilkenny -- Leinster championship -- by a combined total of 48 points, while scoring 14-85.

That points to a big improvement in their consistency but, after beating Kilkenny on Sunday, they are now in new territory where they will almost certainly be favourites heading into the All-Ireland semi-final.

They will do so as Leinster champions, something that many Galway hurling people would have deemed unthinkable some years ago when there was such opposition to moving east.

Indeed, opponents questioned the value of joining Leinster over the last three seasons when Galway reached only one final.

All changed in Croke Park on Sunday when Galway not only took the title but threw the All-Ireland race wide open.

Irish Independent

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