Galway end 29-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final
GALWAY 0-26 WATERFORD 2-17
By John Harrington at Croke Park
Tony Keady must have been smiling down from heaven as Galway ended their 29-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup with a deserved victory over Waterford.
Keady’s death four weeks ago was a real body-blow for Galway hurling, and for every Tribesman and woman this win must have felt like the perfect way to honour his memory.
Keady was Man of the Match from centre-back when Galway last won the All-Ireland in 1988, and their centre-back today, Gearoid McInerney, will go close to earning the same distinction.
Gearoid’s father Gerry McInerney hurled alongside Keady in the Galway half-back line in ’88, so there’s a real sense of a circle being closed with this win.
That Galway team of the ‘80s were famed for their mental strength as well as skill and athleticism, and today this Galway side showed all of the same qualities.
Some of their attacking play was a joy to behold, they hit ferociously hard in the tackle, and they never lost faith in themselves despite the concession of two goals against the run of play in the first-half and a strong showing from Waterford in the third quarter.
They had key leaders in every line of the field. Daithi Burke took no prisoners in the full-back line, McInerney ate Austin Gleeson without salt, captain David Burke hit four points in a hugely influential display, while Joe Canning and Conor Cooney were the pick of a very sharp forward-unit.
Waterford deserve credit for ultimately making this match the contest it was, because a cold dread must have trickled down their spines when Galway fired over four points in the first four minutes.
It was starting to look like 2008 all over again with Waterford players looking bewildered by the power and pace of Galway’s attacking thrusts much like they did in the face of Kilkenny’s tsunami nine years ago.
Canning hit two of those first four Galway points and seemed to be on a one-man mission to fulfil his destiny and finally get his hand on that elusive All-Ireland medal.
Waterford couldn’t get their short-passing game into gear because as soon as one of their players got his hand on the ball he was coming under immediate pressure and had little time to strike never mind getting his head up before doing so.
They were gasping for air, but suddenly some life was breathed into their challenge when Kevin Moran scored a break-away goal against the run of play.
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh was the creator, getting his hand on the sliotar and immediately off-loading to Moran who had run from deep like he so often does to great effect.
He still had a lot to do as he raced towards goal, but struck his shot sweet and true to beat the slightly out of position Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan on his near post.
It was just what Waterford needed, but it didn’t seem to knock a beat out of Galway as they continued rolling forward in wave after maroon wave and hit the next two points of the game through Conor Cooney and David Burke.
But a three-point lead still didn’t seem reflective of their dominance, and now that Waterford had their bearings they started to inch their way more and more into the contest.
Tadhg de Búrca was now making his presence felt, firing a steady stream of deliveries into his forward line where ‘Brick’ Walsh was doing Trojan work to win it despite being so often outnumbered.
Successive points from Pauric Mahony and Kevin Moran gave further credence to the Waterford revival, but Galway’s forwards were still looking razor sharp and they hit the next three points of the game from Cathal Mannion, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney.
But, having hit nine points in the opening 14 minutes, Galway would score just five more over the course of the remaining 24 minutes of the half.
Points from Pauric Mahony and ‘Brick’ Walsh gave further impetus to Waterford and then, incredibly, they were level on 22 minutes when they scored a very fortuitous goal.
A long ball from Kieran Bennett landed on the edge of the Galway square and bounced to the net past Colm Callanan who seemed to momentarily lose his bearings while Shane Bennett and Adrian Tuohy contested the sliotar.
A penny for the thoughts of the Galway players at that moment. They’d done most of the hurling but now had no advantage on the scoreboard to show for it.
That would have a real blow for a mentally fragile team which Galway have been accused of being in the past, but this side is clearly made of sterner stuff.
By half-time they’d edged into the lead again – 0-14 to 2-7 – but their resolve would be tested again in the third quarter when Waterford enjoyed their best spell of the match.
That was largely thanks to the efforts of Pauric Mahony who scored five points in a row, two of them from play, to push his team a point ahead.
But the fourth quarter is always the most important, and Galway really came good in it thanks in no small part to the impact of their bench.
Substitute Niall Burke showed his class with two points in a minute, while Jason Flynn would also hit a brace of points after his introduction.
Waterford had a couple of lively subs of their own in the shape of Brian O’Halloran and Tommy Ryan who hit a point each to reduce the gap to the minimum by the 59th minute, but that was as close as Derek McGrath’s team would get.
In a crucial three-minute spell between the 60th and 63rd minutes Galway hit three points from Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and Jason Flynn to move four points ahead, and it proved to be a winning buffer.
There was one late scare in injury-time when Tommy Ryan wriggled into enough space to unloose a shot at the Galway goal, but David Burke blocked it and the ball was eventually cleared.
When Waterford’s last attack went out for a Galway side-line in the dying seconds of the fourth and final minute of injury-time, the result was sealed.
Galway supporters had the luxury of basking in the final few seconds of the match as Joe Canning took his time over the side-line, safe in the knowledge that their long famine for the Liam MacCarthy had ended.
And when the Fergal Horgan finally sounded the final whistle, Croke Park lifted as 29 years of frustration were blown to smithereens by an explosion of pure joy.
Scorers for Galway: Joe Canning 0-9 (6f, 1 sideline), David Burke 0-4, Conor Cooney 0-3, Cathal Mannion 0-2, Joseph Cooney 0-2, Niall Burke 0-2, Jason Flynn 0-2, Conor Whelan 0-1, Johnny Coen 0-1.
Scorers for Waterford: Pauric Mahony 0-11 (8f), Kevin Moran 1-1, Kieran Bennett 1-0, Jamie Barron 0-2, Michael Walsh 0-1, Brian O’Halloran 0-1, Tommy Ryan 0-1.
GALWAY: Colm Callanan; Adrian Tuohey, Daithi Burke, John Hanbury; Padraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Joseph Cooney, Joe Canning, Jonathan Glynn; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Cathal Mannion. Subs: Niall Burke for Jonathan Glynn (43), Jason Flynn for Cathal Mannion (55), Shane Maloney for David Burke (68).
WATERFORD: Stephen O’Keeffe; Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors; Kieran Bennett, Tadhg de Búrca, Philip Mahony; Jamie Barron, Kevin Moran; Darragh Fives, Austin Gleeson, Pauric Mahony; Shane Bennett, Michael Walsh, Jake Dillon. Subs: Maurice Shanahan for Shane Bennett (22), Brian O’Halloran for Jake Dillon (48), Tommy Ryan for Michael Walsh (56), Colin Dunford for Jamie Barron (64), Patrick Curran for Kieran Bennett (64).
Ref: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)