Thursday 18 January 2018

Stunning upset a shot in the arm for chasing pack

Cyril Farrell

UNDOUBTEDLY a great result for Galway but also a great result for the hurling championship in general. I wouldn't say Kilkenny's aura of invincibility is shattered, but yesterday's extraordinary result in Croke Park is a shot in the arm for other teams around the country.

Galway have laid down a template that the rest can follow and that result will be like a month's training for other counties.

I had a quick chat with Anthony Cunningham on Saturday and he seemed confident that Galway would deliver a performance they could be proud of -- something they haven't always managed in the past.

He was proven right, but even Anthony probably wasn't expecting what we saw in the first half, which had people pinching themselves in disbelief. There were several factors that contributed to Galway's dominance.

They constantly rotated their forwards, which helped pull the Cats' defence all around Croke Park, and they were on top in every sector, but the key move Cunningham made was deploying Damien Hayes as a third midfielder.

The Portumna man played the role perfectly and by the time Kilkenny reacted and Richie Hogan came out, Galway had built up what would prove to be an unassailable lead.

Rewind a few months to that league game against Kilkenny, when Galway were wiped out, and yesterday's game becomes even more extraordinary. But Galway's training since the start of the year was effectively geared towards yesterday and they delivered spectacularly.

As individuals they had won minor, U-21 and club All-Ireland titles, but it all came together yesterday for the county's senior side and men like Joe Canning, Cyril Donnellan and Niall Burke -- to name but a few -- were excellent as Galway succeeded where so many had failed and 'out Kilkenny-ed' Kilkenny. They brought an intensity to their play that complemented their undoubted skill and seemed to be coming out of collisions on the front foot. And with each score, turnover or tackle, Galway's belief visibly grew and it was enough to sustain them to the final whistle.

It should be noted that the absentees that had little effect on Kilkenny in their facile win over Dublin seemed to catch up on the Cats here. Colin Fennelly didn't do much training in the run-up to that game and was called ashore early.

Michael Rice was sprung from the bench early but even he couldn't stop the rot which, incredibly, saw Galway hold Kilkenny to four points in the first half, with just one of those coming from play.

They were much better in the second half, which went more along the lines of how we expected the whole game to go. Kilkenny got goals -- as we thought they would against a Galway defence that looked porous at times against Offaly and Westmeath -- and actually 'won' the second period by 2-7 to 0-9.

But maybe all the thoroughly deserved praise they were given in the wake of the Dublin game caught up on them. The comparison to the All Blacks seems to weigh heavy on GAA teams -- Kildare's footballers and now the Cats have been taken out after being mentioned in the same breath as the world's pre-eminent rugby team.

But yesterday belonged to Galway and to the players and to their long-suffering fans. It's also worth noting the officials in the county who made the decision to play more club championship matches in between Galway games.

It used to be the case where you could go to the county side for three months in the summer and not miss a game, but that has changed and the players certainly seem to have benefited. Their touch and match-sharpness were top class yesterday as they vindicated their decision to move into Leinster.

To produce big performances back-to-back is now Galway's challenge. They were understandably keen to play it down yesterday but they have the hurlers to win the All-Ireland, they just need to keep their feet on the ground.

Losing a Leinster final is far from the end of the world for the Cats. In reality it means they are one game further away from an All-Ireland final than they would like to be.

There could be something of a backlash in the quarter-final and it's not outlandish to suggest that these sides could meet again in the All-Ireland final. If they do, it could be something special.

And while Galway's season is starting to take off, Dublin's year is over. They looked well set when Clare had Nicky O'Connell sent off but the Banner showed the kind of belief and passion that Davy Fitzgerald has obviously instilled in them to dig out a win which could prove to be a significant landmark in the development of that team.

Anthony Daly will have taken the defeat hard and no doubt he'll be considering his future this week. But I think Dublin would be wise to do everything they can to hold on to him. They have made massive strides under his stewardship and it'll be difficult to walk away after a disappointing year like that.

Cork did enough to get by a game Offaly team. The midlanders seem to be able to raise themselves for playing the Rebels and while Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side have plenty to work on, they'll just be happy to have their name in the draw once again. It's warming up nicely!

Irish Independent

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