RUMOURS that Galway hurlers were kidnapped and replaced with imposters for last month's Leinster semi-final against Dublin are assuming more substance by the day.
he only similarity between the fumbling inadequates who scored just 2-7 while being easily out-gunned by Dublin and the exciting adventurers who put a total of 6-48 past Clare and Cork in the space of a week is the colour of the jerseys they wear.
Clare were always likely to come up well short against Galway, but Cork were expected to provide a much more exacting test and perhaps even move their case on to the All-Ireland quarter-final. And when Paudie O'Sullivan helped himself to an unanswered 1-3 in the opening 10 minutes of Saturday's Phase 3 qualifier in the Gaelic Grounds, it looked as if Galway were in for another horrible experience.
They were winning as much possession as Cork but shot four wides in eight minutes, whereas O'Sullivan was making every chance count. Cork were moving the ball quickly and accurately in his direction and he was causing all sorts of problems for Shane Kavanagh.
To add to Galway's woes, they gifted Cork a goal in the first minute when goalkeeper James Skehill had his attempted pass to Kavanagh blocked and O'Sullivan nipped in to bat the ball to the net.
It was a dreadful start for Skehill and Galway, but both recovered brilliantly after the uncertainty of the first 10 minutes.
"We just knuckled down after the bad start. We didn't want James to be made a scapegoat so we got down to hard work. Cork scored 1-3 early on but we missed quite a bit, so we felt we'd get back into it once we tidied things up," said Galway centre-back Tony Og Regan.
Galway did a whole lot more than that. Andy Smith's opening point in the 11th minute settled them into a routine that grew increasingly coherent as the game progressed. In the end, they had scored 25 times while also shooting 16 wides, a clear indication of the dominance they enjoyed all over the pitch.
"The most pleasing aspect of our victory was the way we fought back after being in a deep hole early on. We were six points down playing with the wind, so it was turning into the ultimate test of character.
"If the backbone in this Galway team was as weak as some people thought it was three weeks ago, they could have very easily collapsed and fallen away. But they dug in, they played some great hurling to come back into the game," said Galway manager John McIntyre.
He was correct on all fronts, but it must be said that Cork's resistance was uncharacteristically weak. They managed just four points in the last 25 minutes of the first half and added only seven more in the second half, whereas Galway scored 1-11.
Galway had big-game performers in every line. David Collins was superb in the full-back line; Adrian Cullinane and Tony Og Regan were solidity personified in the half-back line; David Burke was the dominant midfielder while, in attack, Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and Ger Farragher tormented their opponents.
They scored 1-12 from open play between them while also shooting 10 wides, an indication of just how much possession they won. Canning also had a first-half penalty saved (he pointed the resultant '65') and was whistled back and awarded a free after surging through the Cork defence and slotting the ball past Donal Og Cusack on the hour mark.
Cusack had been booked for a head-high challenge on Hayes in the 33rd minute but still couldn't prevent the Portumna sniper from whipping the ball to the net to help Galway to a 1-12 to 1-7 half-time lead.
The extent to which Cork's game misfired was typified by Cusack's puck-outs. Lauded for his pinpoint accuracy over many years, it all went wrong after a good start on Saturday as Galway read them to perfection and very often got to the ball before their rivals, ensuring that the pressure on the Cork goal remained relentless.
The only threat to Galway came in the 52nd minute when David Collins got in a great block on a Patrick Horgan drive that seemed destined for the net at a time when Cork were trailing by five points.
"We couldn't seem to buy a goal out there," said Cork manager Denis Walsh. He is uncertain about what the future holds but seemed to indicate that he would be prepared to remain on if he got the backing of the County Board and the players.
Whoever is in charge will have to make some tough decisions. There's a clear need for a fundamental overhaul, as many of star names who brought such glory to Cork are no longer the compelling forces they used to be, a point referenced by McIntyre as he attempted to put some context on Galway's win.
"This Cork team has been drifting further and further off title-winning pace in recent years," he said.
Still, it was a hugely satisfactory outing for Galway, whose confidence levels will have soared after two fine performances.
However, they will keep strict control on expectations, knowing that the difference between peaks and troughs is sometimes only a game away.
"You're never really as good as you look after a good performance or as bad as people say you are after a bad performance. You're usually in between -- we knew we weren't a bad team overnight (after the Dublin game)," said corner-back Fergal Moore.
"We went back training the following Tuesday night and put the heads down and now we've given ourselves a chance to keep the season going."
For Cork and their manager, it's reflection time at the end of a disappointing season.
Will Walsh continue? "I'd have to look at the overall picture," he said. In the immediate aftermath, it was looking pretty bleak but then Cork have a great knack of rebuilding very quickly. It's one they need to recapture now.
Scorers -- Galway: J Canning 0-10 (4f 1 '65'), D Hayes 1-3, G Farragher 0-4, C Donnellan 1-0, A Smith, D Burke 0-2 each, I Tannian, J Gantley 0-1 each. Cork: P O'Sullivan 1-3, P Horgan 0-4 (2f), C McCarthy 0-3, N McCarthy 0-2, B Cooper, C Lehane 0-1 each.
Galway -- J Skehill 6; F Moore 7, S Kavanagh 7, D Collins 8; D Barry 7, T Og Regan 8, A Cullinane 8; A Smith 7, D Burke 8; J Gantley 7, G Farragher 8, I Tannian 7; D Hayes 9, J Canning 8, A Kerins 7. Subs: B Daly 6 for Smith (57), C Donnellan 7 for Kerins (60), K Hynes for Tannian (65), J Coen for Gantley (67), D Joyce for Collins (68).
Cork -- D Og Cusack 6; S McDonnell 5, E Cadogan 6, B Murphy 6; J Gardiner 6, R Curran 6, S O'Neill 5; J O'Connor 5, W Egan 5; B O'Connor 5, C McCarthy 7, N McCarthy 6; L O'Farrell 5, P O'Sullivan 8, P Horgan 7. Subs: J Coughlan 7 O'Farrell (h-t), C Naughton 6 for O'Neill (49), B Cooper 7 for C McCarthy (57), L McLoughlin 6 for J O'Connor (56), C Lehane for N McCarthy (66).
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).