As referee Colm Lyons blew the full-time whistle to signal the end of yesterday evening’s Leinster hurling final clash between Galway and Wexford Croke Park ,was awash with emotion.
Joy, despair, happiness, disappointment, sorrow, grief were all palpable as the Galway players embraced one another like one would embrace a family member after a long hiatus away from home, while the Wexford players sank to their knees, like lead into the sea.
Although beaten in the final, a lot of credit must be given to the exploits of Davy Fitzgerald as the Wexford manager. Since taking over in the hotseat this year not only has he instilled a sense of belief in his players, but also throughout the entire county. While his antics on the sideline may rile many, there is no doubt that they give his Wexford team a sense of focus as well as generating a thunderous roar from the Yellowbelly supporters.
Of the 60,032 people who were in attendance, I think it’s fair to say that two thirds of the crowd were composed of Wexford supporters, or ‘Wexicans’ as they are recently being dubbed. The noise and colour which they brought to Croke Park yesterday was remarkable for a Leinster hurling final, a fixture which only attracted less than 30,000 people last year.
However, while Wexford put up a brave performance there is no taking away from the fact that the day ultimately belonged to Micheál Donoghue and his victorious Galway team. Winning the Bob O’Keefe cup for the first time since their maiden win in 2012, now is truly the time for Galway to muster a challenge for the Liam McCarthy cup in what is one of the most open hurling championships in years. However, sustaining the required level of consistency on the big championship days has been their problem in recent years and yesterday’s big day in Croker was widely acknowledged as the acid test which they passed with flying colours.
On a day in Croke Park, which Galway’s crown jewel from Portumna, Joe Canning, and the Kinvara conjurer, Conor Whelan, both who’ve been in majestic form all Championship, failed to register a score from open play there were others who stepped up to the mantle, something which might not have happened in previous years. Step forward the two Cooneys.
Both players put in massive performances yesterday, Conor in particular, scoring 7 points from play, he was a massive attacking outlet for Galway winning his own ball every time it was hit in to him, thus rendering Wexford sweeper Shaun Murphy redundant. Joesph Cooney and Niall Burke were both excellent in the half-forward line knocking over beautiful scores, Cooney’s near the end was exceptionally good, knocking it over from a tight
angle from under the roof of the Hogan stand.
What really won the game for Galway was their aerial prowess and being able to win puck-outs, when they pushed up on Wexford keeper, Mark Fanning’s puck-outs at the start of the second half with the game still in the balance it was clear that they were causing Wexford all kinds of bother with their superior physical presence with Pádraic Mannion, David Burke and Gearóid McInerney able to drill the ball long into the unstoppable Conor Cooney. The stats would’ve made depressing reading for Wexford as they were outscored by 0-19 to 1-06 from the 30th minute onwards, with the bulk of the Galway damage done either side of half time.
Even after conceding the goal to Diarmuid O’Keefe, Galway regrouped and kept plugging away with scores to further their lead which shows that there is now a certain maturity amongst the team. There was no panic in the face of adversity.
David Burke said afterwards in his victory speech, that : ‘It is only July’, something which is echoed by his manager, Micheál Donoghue, as Galway look to win the Liam McCarthy for the first time since 1988.
‘Look, there’s obviously going to be more hype, but our mantra is just one game at a time.In fairness, they are an experienced bunch, and a focused group and when we get back it’s just on to the next game. They bought into that and I have no doubt for the next five weeks they will buy into it again.’
Judging by yesterday’s performance, they can finally handle the favourites tag. A scary prospect for future opponents. Roll on the rest of the summer!