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Inside Track

Connacht raise the roof in terrific Murrayfield show

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JUBILATION: Connacht captain John Muldoon, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw show their delight after defeating Leinster in the Guinness PRO12 final at Murrayfield on Saturday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT might not carry the emotional heft associated with Galway hurlers’ long-awaited All-Ireland triumph in 1980, but Connacht’s landmark achievement at Murrayfield last Saturday was undoubtedly one of the most seismic occasions in the history of West of Ireland sport. An extraordinary day which sent shivers down the spine.

Not even the province’s most dyed-in-the-wool supporter could have believed that Connacht would ever get to this level: the minnows from the West being crowned Pro12 champions. Understandable 50/1 outsiders at the start of the campaign, their relentless and startling progress over recent months has almost stretched the bounds of credulity. As sporting fairytales go, they don’t come much better than this . . . unless you from Leicester.

In the context of Connacht’s success-starved 131-year history, what unfolded at the home of Scottish rugby was astonishing. To inflict a comprehensive 20-10 defeat on the glamour boys of Leinster in an unfamiliar pressurised environment was the perfect finale to a season which Pat Lam’s squad have taken by storm. As the stakes and the games got bigger, many were waiting for Connacht to fail. Instead, they got stronger.

There was no implosion, not even a hint of it. With their cover long blown and their adventurous style of running rugby winning truckloads of new supporters with every passing week, Connacht not alone survived each fresh challenge thrown at them, particularly those two huge matches against champions Glasgow in the space of a fortnight, they actually visibly grew in stature and, seemingly, not in the least fazed by the glare of unprecedented media coverage and associated hype.

It’s still hard to put into perspective the scale of Connacht’s achievement. For decades, they were the classic no hopers; the also rans. They were once nearly decommissioned by the IRFU, but there was enough proud rugby people in the province to ensure the sport’s governing body backed down. Sure, there have been some fraught years since that protest march in Dublin in January of 2003, but it still marked a turning point in the history of the game out West. Their team doesn’t have to be successful for supporters to care.

During Lam’s second season in charge, there were hints that Connacht were onto something, but nobody could have envisaged their transformation since last October despite some serious injury disruption earlier in the campaign. It was almost as though the players were given a licence to thrill and how they have thrived in such an atmosphere. They won 15 of their regular 22 league games, while several of those seven defeats were in the unlucky category. Connacht have delivered in the odd big game before, but it was the consistency and high standard of performance which has elevated them to a completely different level.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

It’s not a done deal that Limerick hurlers will win All-Ireland again

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Galway team captain Seán Kelly and Johnny Heaney leading this attack as Leitrim’s Shane Quinn gives chase during the Connacht Senior Football Championship semi-final at Pearse Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IF we are to take heed of the hurling experts, the 2022 All-Ireland senior title rests between two teams – champions Limerick, and Waterford. The rest are being virtually written off, such is the awe the Shannonsiders, in particular, are held in. Chasing a fourth Liam McCarthy Cup in five years, they continue to set the standard, but that doesn’t mean John Kiely’s charges are invincible.

Just like Galway had done in the National League last February, injury-hit Tipperary fronted up to the title holders at the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday. Only late goals from substitute Conor Boylan and Aaron Gillane, who continues to sail close to the wind in terms of his discipline, got Limerick over the line in a cracking contest.

Smarting from all the criticism their tame effort against Clare in Thurles sparked, Tipperary had reputations to retrieve. With Noel McGrath reminding us of his class, innate stickwork and vision, and Ger Browne also a big influence in a roving role, Tipperary were not in the least flattered to lead 0-14 to 1-9 at the break.

Limerick players were being hit hard and hounded in possession. They struck some bad wides and you got the sense that they were slightly taken aback by Tipperary’s work ethic and intensity. Jake Morris was another causing the home team trouble and, for much of the second-half, the outcome remained in doubt.

Tom Morrissey was one of the few Limerick players who was measuring up to his normal standards although defender Seán Finn was to finish in a blaze of glory. Gearóid Hegarty was also doing his best work near the end as the champions’ sheer physical power finally began to wear down Tipperary.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

No words but Cody’s hostile stare at Shefflin gives the game away!

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Galway attacker Brian Concannon in a race for possession with Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh during Sunday's Leinster Hurling Championship clash at Pearse Stadium. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

The contemptuous icy glare Brian Cody fixed on Henry Shefflin during their awkward post-match handshake at Pearse Stadium on Sunday spoke volumes for what he was thinking, even if no words were exchanged. Cody’s gait smacked of: “How could you do this to your own”?

In 20-plus years running the Kilkenny dressing room, their long-serving manager has always demanded loyalty, so to see a former player he helped win 10 All-Ireland senior medals in the opposition dug-out in Salthill would probably have gone against every principle Cody stands for as a proud Kilkenny hurling man.

Given that backdrop to Sunday’s Leinster Championship round-robin clash, this was a fixture Cody desperately wanted to win. He was highly animated on the sideline and challenged referee Colm Lyons afterwards over his awarding of the injury-time free which led to Conor Cooney dramatically winning the day for Galway.

To Shefflin’s credit, he made no issue of that frosty handshake at the end of the game. He kept his own counsel on the issue and, instead, focused on an outstanding success for Galway, which was backboned by a strong work ethic, especially up front where the men in maroon harassed and harried themselves to a standstill.

The Kilkenny defence has rarely looked so uneasy in possession. Paddy Deegan and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy – two of their most dependable players – were spooked into making mistakes that were so unlike Kilkenny. The Cats naturally never threw in the towel, but such was Galway’s level of intent, the Leinster champions were often forced to play off the back foot.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

The sight of Shefflin on Galway’s sideline will antagonise Kilkenny

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Galway’s Johnny Heaney and Matthew Tierney put pressure on Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor during the Connacht Football Championship quarter-final at MacHale Park on Sunday. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

HENRY Shefflin knew when he signed up for the Galway hurling manager’s post last Autumn that this day was always coming. And it will come to pass at Pearse Stadium on Sunday when he will cross swords with the county he served so brilliantly and loyally for the first time.

Since Galway were accepted into the Leinster championship in 2009, the big game in the province quickly became their clashes with Kilkenny. Counties like Offaly and Wexford didn’t want the Tribesmen coming east, but something had to be done to make the title race more competitive. Year after year, the Cats were doing what they wanted – winning the Bob O‘Keeffe Cup in 10 of the previous 11 campaigns.

But the stand-out fixture in Leinster has been given added spice by Shefflin’s presence on the Galway sideline in 2022. A winner of 10 All-Ireland senior medals during a period of unprecedented dominance by one county, the Ballyhale man repeatedly delivered on the big day.

Kilkenny had many superb players in their ranks – great hurlers of the calibre of JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, Michael Fennelly, Eoin Larkin and Eddie Brennan – but Shefflin was their leader. The man who regularly stamped his authority on the action in periods of crisis, notably the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final against Galway.

After retirement, he took over as manager of Ballyhale and guided them to two club All-Irelands. With Kilkenny’s last McCarthy Cup triumph coming in 2015 and some local disgruntlement over Brian Cody – for all his many victories – overstaying his welcome, it appeared only a matter of time before Shefflin became the Noresiders’ supremo.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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