IT was close, uncomfortably close . . . but in a high-wire finale, Galway held their nerve to squeeze over the line in Sunday’s titanic All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park and, in the process, justify their long-standing status as the best equipped team to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup in September.
For the third consecutive year, Galway and Tipperary locked horns at the penultimate stage of the championship and, once again, the outcome was in doubt until the dying seconds as both teams stretched every sinew and emptied their energy tanks in pursuit of a cherished victory.
In the end, it was the defiant Tribesmen who were celebrating securing a third All-Ireland final appearance in six years after their talisman Joe Canning, who came alive in the second-half, knocked over one of the greatest winning points in GAA history from under the Cusack Stand in the fourth minute of injury time.
That epic score shook Croke Park to its foundations as the huge Galway following in the massive attendance of over 68,000 gave full vent to their feelings of relief and joy in dethroning the All-Ireland champions in a magnificent struggle for supremacy.
The opening-half exchanges were memorable in their own right, but on the resumption both teams lifted the pace, quality and intensity levels to new levels. It was spellbinding stuff and there was so much drama and near-misses, rival fans were left breathless with a mix of tension and excitement as a thrilling semi-final reached its climax.
The teams were level an astonishing 12 times and the biggest gap between them was three points after Tipperary flew out of the starting blocks in establishing an early 0-4 to 0-1 advantage. By half-time, that margin had been cut to one; by the end, they were heartbreakingly one behind.
The margins were that small between victory and defeat, but Galway were slightly the more compelling outfit, enjoyed an edge in possession (55% to 45%), and also created more scoring opportunities, a fact also reflected in their wides tally of 14 as compared to Tipperary’s 11.
Having routed the same opposition in the league final and virtually coasted through the Leinster championship, Galway were hurling’s hottest ticket ahead of Sunday’s semi-final, but everybody knew that this would be the acid test against a team which had improved incrementally through the qualifiers and were desperate to become the first Tipperary team to retain the All-Ireland title since 1965.
They gave it a mighty go in trying to keep that dream alive. Men like Darren Gleeson, Michael Cahill, James Barry, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher (second half), the tireless Dan McCormack, Seamus Callanan (first half), John O’Dwyer and the McGrath brothers, Noel and John, rose to the challenge, but it still wasn’t enough.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.