Galway discover consistency and show their mettle
So much of the talk in the build-up to this game was about Galway’s habitual nature of failing to put back to back championship performances together. A central issue in settling this contest was always bound to be how they would react to destroying Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
Ultimately their response was excellent, they got to the pitch of the game early, crucially got into their stride in the second-half and delivered their fourth championship victory of the year. In discovering a consistency of performance, they also discovered the grit required in these showdowns. It was a different type of game to the Leinster final in that they did not have the comfort of a blistering start. Instead this was a day where matters were tight on the scoreboard.
When it was needed in the second-half, Galway did things better and produced the decisive bursts of hurling. Between the 39th and 52nd minutes, they outscored Cork by 0-5 to 0-1. Between the 59th and 73rd minutes, they outscored Cork by 0-4 to 0-1. Those dominant phases essentially settled the contest. They rose to the levels the occasion demanded to book the county’s first All-Ireland final berth since 2005.
Cork’s attack hit a wall
Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s attack entered yesterday’s game in a good shape. The summer had seen the starting sextets up front post good scores – 0-22 against Tipperary, 1-19 against Offaly, 2-17 against Wexford and 1-14 against Waterford. Yesterday against Galway, they notched 0-13. It was not a shoddy total but only two points, both from Patrick Horgan, were registered in the second-half. In a tight and tense match, Cork required a greater return from their forwards.
Their cause was not helped by the quality of ball their attack was serviced with. High, looping balls that were despatched towards the forwards. Those deliveries were not advantageous for an offensive unit which thrive on low and fast balls sent towards them. That trend was also a reflection of the tremendous pressure Galway were placing outfield on the Cork half-back line and midfield which prevented the supply to the Rebels forward from being as measured as they would have liked.
In addition Cork fronted up against a Galway defence that was simply outstanding. The new components to it since Cork faced Galway in the championship last July have enhanced it with Kevin Hynes providing the solidity at full-back while Niall Donoghue and Johnny Coen matched each other in the second-half with marvellous displays as they gobbled up possession.
The survivors from the 2005 All-Ireland final – David Collins, Fergal Moore and Tony Óg Regan – are also flourishing. Four of Cork’s starting forwards were replaced yesterday, only Paudie O’Sullivan threatened frequently and James Skehill never had a save to make in goal. Those patterns had a major influence on the game.
The Joe Canning factor
His underage career and club exploits with Portumna had lead to Joe Canning being anointed for greatness a long time ago. Yet his senior career has been a seemingly endless cycle of frustration as his campaigns ground to a halt before the Galway Races kicked into gear at the end of every July. But 2012 has been different with that Leinster final destruction of Kilkenny a major career milestone for Canning and yesterday’s performance against Cork saw further progress.
He struck 0-11, nailing pressure frees, lofting points from play, registering vital second-half scores and doing it all against Cork defence who stuck tenaciously to him. Canning persevered and even journeyed back to defence in the finale to pitch in. He has thrived under Anthony Cunningham’s management and has been integral to their success to date in 2012. Canning is the front-runner at present of the Hurler of the Year award, albeit that next Sunday’s meeting of Kilkenny and Tipperary will be important in settling that debate.
But more significantly after a career that has already featured All-Ireland finals at the levels of minor, U21 and senior club, Joe Canning will now be a protagonist on All-Ireland senior hurling final day on September 9th. It’s something he will cherish and something his form in 2012 has deserved.
Anthony Nash consoles Tom Kenny after the game. Pic: INPHO/Colm O’Neill
The outlook for Cork after 2012
The county’s rich hurling traditions would not lend to an All-Ireland semi-final placing being celebrated. Certainly there was a level of disappointment and regret in the Cork camp after yesterday’s game. For some of their players there is a realization that appearances at last four of the national stage will not be plentiful given the stage their careers are at. This was a game where they met a team that deserved victory more yet Cork were firmly in the hunt at half-time and were still only two points adrift with 12 minutes left. They will wonder what if Patrick Cronin had got more luck to see his second-half snapshot fall under the crossbar, what if they had drawn level to put increased pressure on Galway and what if their decision-making had been more astute at times.
The latter fault can be apportioned to inexperience in some cases. The U21 trio of Jamie Coughlan, Darren Sweetnam and Conor Lehane will have absorbed so much from 2012. The terrific form of Shane O’Neill and Patrick Cronin has been really heartening for manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy who needs players in their mid-twenties to step forward to lead the team. And veterans like Tom Kenny and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín did not falter in carrying out their duties yesterday.
Cork’s play needs more refinement in places and their attack needs more punch to it. These are things Barry-Murphy knows. They need to improve if they are to become an elite force again but in Year One of the project that the St Finbarr’s clubman has undertaken, contesting a league final and an All-Ireland semi-final is a solid base on which to build upon.
Can Galway take the next step on September 9th?
There was an interesting question put to Anthony Cunningham in yesterday’s post-match briefing as to whether this semi-final success, a tough test where they fashioned victory, will be more beneficial to Galway than the glitz and glamour generated by the county’s dismissals of Kilkenny in the 2001 and 2005 All-Ireland semi-finals. It is a salient point and the hype will probably not be as suffocating now for the Galway players.
That is down to the fact that their supporters will be guarded after the lessons of the past and that whoever wins next Sunday will be favorites for the final. Facing Kilkenny would be difficult for Galway given how highly charged Brian Cody’s side would be to avenge their Leinster final defeat where Tipperary would be an opponent that they may fancy facing more.
Yet either way it is a huge achievement for Cunningham to guide Galway into an All-Ireland final in his first year. They have toppled two of the game’s traditional big guns in Kilkenny and Cork, their management team have adopted an excellent approach in getting the players in the right mental frame and their confidence should be soaring.
The multitude of U21 players in their squad – 14 of yesterday’s panel including three starters – means there will be another challenge for them to prepare for in Saturday week’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. A fortnight later then will be the senior showdown as they seek to bridge a 24-year gap since the Liam McCarthy Cup last crossed the Shannon.