If there has been one thing impressive about the Galway hurlers this year, it has been their unshakeable commitment to maintain the high standards they set for themselves when landing a first Liam McCarthy Cup in almost three decades last September.
Those on the outside wondered over the Winter break if the Tribesmen would come back with the same insatiable hunger and driving ambition following a long overdue success, but captain David Burke insists there was never any doubt that they would in their own minds.
In any inter-county career – in the lifespan of any team – the window of opportunity is relatively small. These Galway players are determined to make the most of it. “Yeah, exactly. I mean, although we won last year, a lot of the squad felt when we came back in January that there was more in us. When we sat down and looked at it, we felt we had more to deliver on the pitch,” he confides.
There was also a general agreement that this could only be achieved with everyone pulling together because, just as in 2017, this would lay the foundation for any further success. “The hunger was there straight away, especially with the additional few [players] that was added into the squad.
“So, training was being pushed all the time and that is massive. If you don’t have that, you will lose that bit of an edge going into the matches. Probably, we took a bit of a backwards step in the league and got caught by Limerick and Wexford towards the end of it but I think we made up a good bit of ground between then and the start of the championship and we got back to where we left off last year.
“We know though that every year is different and we have to play Clare now. It has been 2016 since we last met so it will be an interesting game but hopefully one we can get over,” remarks the All-Ireland winning captain.
No doubt, the landscape for the Galway senior hurlers is a changed one in 2018. The sense of expectation this year – unlike other years perhaps – is justified given what they have done and are doing on the field of play. Burke admits he has sensed the shift but notes they haven’t shied away from it either.
“I suppose, last year, we were so long waiting and it was relief more than anything else. It was all about getting the job done. This year now, all the talk around is of us being favourites but we can’t control or do anything about the talk around. Everyone thinks that we are favourites and all we have to do is go out and do it again, but it is hard.”
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Champs St Thomas’ survive another tight battle
St. Thomas’ 0-22
ST Thomas’ collected their second brace of Group 3 points with a one-point victory over Sarsfields at Kenny Park last Friday evening and, in doing so, they ensured their bid for the three-in-a-row of Tom Callanan Cups remains firmly on track.
The result secured Kevin Lally’s charges knockout hurling and, on this evidence, they will not relinquish their county crown cheaply. Asked serious questions by Sarsfields, the champions stood up to the test – even when Sarsfields took the lead through a Kevin Cooney free with three minutes remaining, it never looked like St. Thomas’ race might be run.
Perhaps, their dramatic injury-time victory over Castlegar had influenced the perception in this regard, but with Sarsfields breathing down their necks from start to finish, St. Thomas’ showed once more just how much they relish a dogfight.
Indeed, it could be said, given the number of tight games they have won in the last three years under Lally, that they have become comfortable operating in this environment.
For this victory, though, they do owe a huge debt to Conor Cooney, who finished with 14 points, 13 from placed balls. His 59th minute point from play, in which he gathered a long-range Sean Skehill sideline cut with the deftest of touches and rifled over on the turn, was a thing of beauty. That point edged St. Thomas’ back into the lead for the ninth and final time.
That not only speaks volumes of St. Thomas’ resilience but also of what Sarsfields brought to the contest. Throughout the hour, they gave as good as they got and, all in all, they were impressive. So much so, one suspects Sarsfields will still have a say in this championship. With the influx of young players – and given what they are bringing – they certainly have the talent.
In addition, Joseph Cooney now has another game under his belt and with each championship minute, he should be edging closer to a return to form. Over the opening two games, the Galway star has produced some fine moments but there is more in the big man.
As for last Friday, one feature of the contest was the number of scores that came from frees, with St. Thomas’, as noted, hitting 13 and Sarsfields converting 10 through Kevin Cooney, who also pointed from a lineball. Such, though, was the nature of this physical contest.
For referees, it’s difficult to get the balance right between this cry from supporters (as limited as they are now within the grounds) to let the game flow and their protestations that every contact made by the opposition should be a free.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune
Impressive Turloughmore blast county title warning
AS senior hurling championship victories go, this was as comfortable as it gets. Having led from pillar to post, the only question that hung over this tie throughout the 60 plus minutes was just how much Turloughmore would win this SHC ‘A’ Group 2 fixture by.
While Turloughmore looked the part, Oranmore/Maree will be disappointed with their endeavours. The talk around the county since GAA resumed has been on the physicality and intensity Gerry McInerney’s charges have brought to games but, last Saturday, they were unable to utilise these attributes or, at least, to any great effect.
Indeed, if anything, it was Turloughmore who ruled the exchanges in this regard and one only has to look at the amount of primary possession the victors claimed, not only in open play but under the puckout.
Turloughmore set the tone in the opening period when they decimated Oranmore/Maree on the opposition’s restarts, with Fergal Moore, man of the match Kevin Hussey, Conor Walsh and Jamie Holland impressing.
In addition, four-time All-Star Daithí Burke was like the conductor of an orchestra around the middle, where he was ably assisted by Sean Loftus while, up front, Sean Linnane, who finished with four points from play, was the proverbial livewire.
By half-time, this game was as good as over as a contest, Turloughmore leading 0-12 to 0-4. In the opening quarter, Linnane, Brion Connolly, Barry Callanan, Walsh (two frees) and Gary Burke were all on target as Joe Hession’s outfit raced into a six points to one advantage.
The quality of Turloughmore’s play was such that it gave no chance to Oranmore/Maree to gain a foothold in the contest and the latter had it all to do to keep abreast of their opponents in the opening half as Sean McInerney, Niall Burke (two frees) and Conor Hanniffy accounted for their modest total of four points.
In contrast, Turloughmore were consistent in adding another six scores to their tally in the second quarter as Linnane, with two superb points, Holland (two frees), Gary Burke and Moore provided the finishing touches for their side.
Eight points to the good at the interval, Turloughmore extended this advantage to 10 twice in the third quarter – Daithí Burke, Holland, Walsh (free) and Daniel Loftus their scorers – but, ironically, the 20 minutes after half-time also proved to be Oranmore/Maree’s best spell as they outscored the victors by six points to four.
Niall Burke hit four of those Oranmore/Maree points from placed balls while substitute Padraic Keane and Mark Hanniffy also made their presence felt with two neat scores. Although it cut the deficit to six points, that was as good as it was to get for them.
In the closing stages, Turloughmore, having over-played the ball with unnecessary touches and passes in that spell, tidied up their game again and outscored Oranmore/Maree by 1-5 to a point, with substitute Ronan Badger flicking home the goal in injury-time after getting on the end of a long delivery.
With Walsh and Holland converting four frees between them, and Linnane hitting a fine point from play following good work from Daniel Loftus, Turloughmore ran out deserving 14-point winners.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune
Helebert’s 14-point haul helps Gort to big win
IT all comes down to the last day in Senior B Group 1 and a probable straight shootout between Ballinderreen and Gort following Mattie Murphy’s men’s 10-point victory over a game and gutsy Kinvara outfit at Pearse Stadium on Sunday.
The victory places Gort atop the group standings, marginally ahead of Craughwell on scoring difference though with Ballinderreen waiting in the wings knowing all that stands between them and a place in the preliminary quarter-final is their south Galway rivals Gort, there’s sure to be skin and hair flying when these two do battle in 10 days-time.
Gort were full value for their victory here against a Kinvara outfit who really tore into them and posed the 2014 county champions no end of problems, though Gort always looked the likely winners having been able to carve out their scores that bit easier than Brian Carroll’s men.
A superb display of marksmanship by Aiden Helebert (0-14, 0-8 frees) propelled his side over the line, while Gerard O’Donoghue’s 44th minute goal proved vital too in drawing away from their near-neighbours.
Jack Grealish, as anticipated, was the man given the unenviable role of tracking Conor Whelan for the day and credit to the Gort man, he did a fine job in holding Whelan to a point from play, though the Kinvara and Galway star did draw a host of fouls and was unlucky with a couple more efforts that drifted wide of the target.
It was a day where everything had to go right for Kinvara if they were to pick up the win that would keep their championship ambitions alive, but 10 wides and a missed goal chance in either half were always likely to cost them dearly and so it proved.
From a performance point of view, this was a much better showing than what they produced in the opening round. They got their match-ups right at the back with Shane Byrne on Richie Cummins, Shane Kavanagh marshalling either Mike Mullins or Ronan Burke while in the middle of the park, Niall Bermingham and James O’Hara were both heavily involved.
In attack, young Conor Burke had a fine outing alongside Whelan as did Tom O’Donovan and substitute Eanna Linnane, but it wasn’t enough against a Gort side which again lined out without Aidan Harte, though Jason Grealish and Sylvie Óg Linnane both made their return to the fold.
Kinvara opened brightly and led 0-4 to 0-1 after seven minutes with Colm Callanan (two frees) and Whelan (one free) both on target twice.
Gort were level by the water break with Aiden Helebert on target along with Greg Lally but Kinvara’s Barry Britton had the opportunity to goal for his side and send Kinvara in for the first interval in rude health after great work by O’Hara, but Britton’s shot was straight at Kris Finnegan who saved well.
Extended report in this week’s Connacht Tribune