Galway show the magic of hurling
On the final whistle, we could breathe again. Galway had won, but more significantly, Kilkenny were beaten. What magic, what suspense. No wonder we bought those Guinness ads and the phoney mythology, hook line and sinker.
Even as Galway raised the Bob O’Keefe Cup — the most impressive piece of silverware in the GAA — minds immediately struggled to process it.
How did it happen? Why did it happen? It happened, because it had to.
The morning of the game, most newspapers contained something or other about the launch of Enda McEvoy’s ‘The Godfather of Modern Hurling — The Fr Tommy Maher Story’ and how it neatly tied in tradition and the different generations of the sport in Kilkenny.
On the front cover is a photograph of Fr Maher himself, giving a tutorial to rapt attention from a Kilkenny team. Watching on with eyes peeled and ears open are Nickey Brennan, the future President of the GAA and former Kilkenny manager, and Brian Cody himself.
Amidst all the tributes to Kilkenny’s greatness, the usual stats popped up.
The Cats were going for their seventh Leinster title in succession. Over the past 15 years, they took it 14 times. Their appetite was unsurpassed.
When Dublin were expected to put it up to them a fortnight before, they buried them by 17 points and possibly killed the momentum of the Dublin hurling renaissance.
Nobody predicted a win for Galway. Since wrestling the Liam MacCarthy Cup back from the temporary clutches of Tipperary last year, Kilkenny had resumed their role as a living, breathing statement of excellence.
Just like the All Blacks, we ran out of superlatives a long time ago and fell into the habit of repeating what made them so awesome.
Watching the game back now, it’s still a surprise. The three hurling pundits on duty were Liam Sheedy, Ger Loughnane and Tomás Culcahy and their lack of ego and bombast, together with their insight, makes the Sunday Game hurling editions infinitely more entertaining. But none of them gave Galway a hope, really.
In co-commentary, Donal O’Grady said that if Galway were to have a chance, they had to avoid leaking early goals. He never thought of the opposite taking effect. Nobody did.
Going into the game though, Galway’s main men would have conducted a lot of soul-searching. Joe Canning’s record against Kilkenny was dragged up again and the evidence showed that he couldn’t cope when the Cats got their claws out.
While praising his nature, Loughnane still called into question Iarla Tannian’s ability to stick to the pace of the game.
He got that right as Tannian was taken off with 15 minutes to go, but it was the only prediction to come good.
Right from the second minute the intent was there. A high ball found Jackie Tyrell in deep trouble, with Canning for company. Canning raised the big paw, caught the ball and drove it home, the first goal David Herity has conceded in this year’s Championship.
In open play, Galway did to Kilkenny what the Cats were famous for — hitting hard and hurting.
On the half hour, Canning punished Kilkenny with a double body blow.
Tommy Walsh lined up a sideline cut and sliced it infield.
Canning fetched and sent it in on a laserbeam to Cyril Donnellan who pointed.
Two minutes later, the exact same thing happened with Walsh cutting to Canning.
This time, Joe didn’t need to look up and swung it over with a beautiful arc of a stroke.
Kilkenny came back and made a fist of it as we expected, but Galway would not be denied.
Up north, it was something altogether more drab.
Antrim won an Ulster title, but nobody cared.
The paltry attendance said as much.
We continued to cheat the noble sport of hurling with a lack of promotion that carries on from a general sense of apathy.
In the north, we play a peculiar game of self-deception and call ourselves ‘Great Gaels’, when in fact the vast majority of us follow one sport and ignore hurling altogether, or proclaim the we are not interested, as if it’s a badge of honour.
It leads to grim evenings like last Sunday. You get what you deserve.