Galway end 29 years of hurt in MacCarthy Cup thriller
Galway 0-26 Waterford 2-17
There comes a time in the evolution of any team when they simply have to reach out and grab what is theirs. Galway did that in Croke Park to take only their fifth Liam MacCarthy Cup, their first in 29 years, against a Waterford team that never got to grips with the Galwegians.
In doing so, all the old criticisms of how previous manager Anthony Cunningham was ousted over the winter of 2015 have been put to bed. Victors get to pen their own stories and while Galway and Cunningham were unlucky in the All-Ireland final of that year against Kilkenny, the ends have finally justified the means.
It was the end of a 29-year absence of Liam Mac crossing the Shannon, made poignant by the lingering shots of the late Tony Keady's - man of the match in the 1988 All-Ireland final - wife Margaret and daughter Shannon on the pitch afterwards, standing beside the cult hero that is Joe Canning.
"An absolutely unbelievable feeling," was Galway manager Michael Donoghue's assessment of his feelings afterwards, before going on to acknowledge that he as current incumbent of the manager's position, was standing on the shoulders of giants.
"I said it for the last couple of months, I am in a privileged position here today, being the manager. It would be very remiss of me not to mention all the previous managers that have gone before me, that have helped nurture and develop these players," he stated.
"And it is similar for the players, who have represented Galway since 1988 and particularly in the last few years, some great players have gone through. We have been saying it for the last couple of months, since the Wexford game, these boys have taken huge ownership and I think any management team that is in situ is trying to develop a team and a squad that take ownership and they have done it for the last couple of months."
One of the things they did was to tog every player from their panel of 34 - which flies in the face of GAA protocol whereby they insist on a matchday panel of 26.
But Galway won't mind any potential fine. Certainly, wing-forward Joseph Cooney was convinced of its worth, beaming afterwards; "Huge credit to Michael and the lads, I was delighted to see those 34 lads come out for the team photo, fully togged.
"We were in a bubble, all 34 of us in the one direction, and only for that I don't think we would have got over the line."
Galway were out of the traps early and had four points up in as many minutes before Waterford's Kevin Moran snapped up a break from a puck out, striking to the bottom corner and past Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan.
Having assessed how best to cope with Tadgh de Búrca's sweeping role for the Deise, Galway instead decided to strike from distance, an approach probably best illustrated by their sometimes lone full forward Jonathan Glynn being the only front six forward held scoreless.
Galway captain David Burke had just added his second fine point from play when disaster struck. Waterford's Kieran Bennett sent a speculative ball in the direction of his brother Shane and his marker Adrian Tuohey. Both men tangled in the square and the ball bounced, untouched in front of Callanan, who took his eye off only to turn right around and cast his hurl at it in despair over one of those freak and soft All-Ireland final goals that occur with frequency.
Galway's response was emphatic. Canning drilled over a sideline cut, Conor Whelan slotted over from an acute angle and Joseph Cooney punished a Darragh Fives delivery by blocking down, collecting the break and zooming through to point. Another late Canning free and Galway were still the minimum in front by half time despite Waterford getting lucky, 2-7 to 0-14.
A trio of Pauric Mahony points, two from frees, put Waterford in front for the first time. They never got two clear although a glorious chance fell to none other than the experienced Moran whose shot drew wide.
From that point on, Galway outscored their opponents nine points to five.
Waterford clipped five wide in that period. Two Galway subs in Niall Burke and Jason Flynn arrived in like comets and stole a brace of points each.
There was none of the old devil-may-care of Galway's hurling. Precious little flashy stuff. The finishing however was of the highest quality and the scores arrived through over the shoulder, spinning on the ball of the foot attempts.
The scores fell like an avalanche. With 20 scores from play and just six wides throughout, Donoghue said: "That is down to the quality of players that we have. Throughout the year, we have encountered different systems and different sweepers and the lads always had the capability of shooting from outside.
"And even today, it was about ensuring that we had the right lads out the field that were very capable of taking scores. Thankfully, that paid off.
"Once the confidence starts growing, and the belief gets bigger and bigger in the players, they are not afraid to shoot. But to shoot, you have to be capable and we certainly have those players."
His opposite number Derek McGrath was typically humble in defeat, describing their slow start as "that's hurling I suppose".
"That sort of thing can happen in a match. If you go to the '08 final, that storm came fairly early and that was in our minds straight away. I was thinking to myself 'lads, this is coming again... They are Kilkenny in waiting. A sluggish start, I am not sure. I don't think it was nerves. It was down to Galway being better for the first 15 minutes."
The west is awake once more.
Galway: C Callanan; A Tuohey, Daithí Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen 0-1, David Burke 0-4; J Cooney 0-2, J Canning 0-9, 0-6f, 1x 'SL', J Glynn; C Whelan 0-1, C Cooney 0-3, C Mannion 0-2. Subs: N Burke 0-2 for Glynn (43m), J Flynn 0-2 for C Mannion (55m), S Moloney for D Burke (69m). Yellow cards: Hanbury (35m), D Burke (42m), Harte (55m), C Cooney (68m). Red cards: 0
Waterford: S O'Keefe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T de Búrca, A Gleeson, Philip Mahony; J Barron 0-2, K Bennett 1-0; K Moran 1-1, Pauric Mahony 0-11, 8f, J Dillon; S Bennett, M Walsh 0-1, D Fives. Subs: M Shanahan for S Bennett (23m), B O'Halloran 0-1 for Dillon (49m), T Ryan 0-1 for Walsh (56m), C Dunford for Barron (63m), P Curran for K Bennett (65m). Yellow cards: Coughlan (60m). Red cards: 0
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)