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Gallant Galway fall short in epic battle

By Francis Farragher

THERE was gallantry, bravery and most of all honesty, ingrained into Galway’s All-Ireland final joust with Kerry at Croke Park on Sunday, but by the time the big hand of the clock neared High Noon – well 5.10pm to be precise – the effort just wasn’t enough to bring Sam across the Shannon for the first time since 2001.

All-Ireland final days can sometimes be anticlimactic with the outcome long known before the finishing whistle, but this certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday with Pádraig Joyce’s charges having one ‘right go’ at lifting the title.

Galway fans leaving the west on Sunday morning in downpours arrived in Dublin to see the temperature gauges in the mid-20s with hazy sunshine and dusty pavements meeting our every step.

People decked out in maroon tops, hats and headbands seemed to be everywhere – yes, the Galway supporters, sometimes maybe unfairly accused of nonchalance towards their county teams, really had travelled in their thousands to the capital on July’s second-last Sunday.

For many there was just hope, but for others there was a quiet confidence that Galway might be poised to deliver one huge display and, in the process, make a mockery of their 10/3 final odds with the bookies.

There were a lot of positive early signs. Kerry had a few uncharacteristic wides; Galway sniped off a couple of neat points; Conor Gleeson’s kick-outs were beginning to find their men; and Kerry just seemed to be that little bit rattled.

While Kerry had their homework done to contain the challenge of Damien Comer after his semi-final heroics against Derry, with a man behind him and another in front, Jack O’Connor’s defensive soldiers weren’t faring as well against one Shane Walsh.

The Kilkerrin/Clonberne clubman embraced the big stage with aplomb on Sunday kicking nine points – four of them from play – as he threatened for a time to almost singlehandedly undermine Kerry’s efforts to win a first title in eight years.

While Walsh might have been the diamond tip of Galway’s effort to mine the gold of an All-Ireland title, there was also a lot of steel all over the pitch and especially so in defence.

Claregalway’s Jack Glynn took to the big-stage atmosphere with a gusto that had to be inspirational, kicking a wonderful first-half point into the bargain, while lads like Seán Kelly, Kieran Molloy and John Daly just kept on saying ‘no’- to Kerry attacks.

There was high voltage in the air at the Jones’ Road venue on Sunday right from the moment that the Artane Boys’ Band led the parade around the pitch nearing the 3.25pm mark. No seat was vacant in the stand near me; no lips were sealed; and no one was quite sure of the outcome.

Galway held a slender 0-8 to 0-7 interval lead – any maroon follower would have settled for that at the start of the game – and when PJ’s soldiers forged into a two-point lead 12 minutes into the second half, kids in maroon jerseys could see glory and old men with grey heads could dream of a 10th title.

The match was going to go down to the wire – Kerry and Galway fans were all agreed on that – but a little edge for the Kingdom, in terms of their overall panel strength, was to have a major impact on the final outcome of this battle to the death.

By the time referee Seán Hurson sounded the interval whistle, Kerry manager, Jack O’Connor was in no doubt that his men were in one right scrap. Like Claudius in Hamlet, he knew that: “Diseases desperate grown, by desperate appliance are relieved, or not at all.”

While Shakespeare mightn’t have been in the Kerry manager’s mind, he did opt for some desperate half-time measures. David Moran and Paul Geaney were hauled off with the Spillane brothers, Killian and Adrian introduced.

That pair added second-half zest to the Kerry cause, counteracted somewhat by the growing influence of Cillian McDaid who really got his teeth into the action after scoring a first half point. Three more great scores were to follow in the second-half for the Monivea-Abbey clubman.

With just six minutes of normal time remaining, the sides were tied at 16-points apiece and there seemed little sign of any wonder goal emerging, even if attacking wizards Shane Walsh and David Clifford were at their magical best.

Then Galway centre back John Daly in the corner of his defence, seemed to have been blatantly fouled, only for referee Seán Hurson to award a free-in for a Kerry. It was by any barometer a potentially match-changing call and David Clifford was not a man to look a gift horse in the mouth – the Kingdom were ahead and never looked back.

Leaving Croke Park, there was talk among Galway supporters about Hurson’s critical decision. Some spoke of the fact that the ref is from the same Tyrone club (Galbally Pearses) as Kerry coach Paddy Tally and it took me back to childhood days and Galway’s loss to Dublin in 1963, when then referee Eamon Moules of Wicklow, was reputedly a connection of Dubs’ star, John Timmons.

Overall, Hurson did a pretty fair job, I thought, but it was a very harsh call on Daly and on Galway at a critical juncture of the game. If it had been a one-point margin of defeat, then that decision might have hurt even more, but Kerry finished the stronger, and probably on mature reflection, had a better balanced all-round forward line than Galway’s. Critically too, they had more potential ‘game changers’ on the bench.

All of Kerry’s six starting forwards scored with five of them hitting the target from play, while one of their subs (Killian Spillane), came on and scored two points. Only one Galway forward, other than Shane Walsh, hit the target over the course of the match, that being Johnny Heaney in the first half, when his goal strike was deflected over the bar.

And while it was an evening of ‘what might have beens’ as we left the Mediterranean climes of the capital to be hit by a cloudburst in Kinnegad, there was a kind of acceptance that Kerry were just that bit stronger in terms of their high-fielding; their diversity of scoring options; and the overall strength of their panel.

I just shuddered a little too on Monday morning when I read a heading in the Irish Times quoting David Clifford which proclaimed: “We’re just getting started,” and thought to myself, are we seeing the return of another period of Kerry dominance in Gaelic football?

Galway though are back knocking on the All-Ireland door, and if, through the Winter and Spring months we can supplement our midfield and forward options, then we won’t be far away over the coming years . . . but it takes a lot to ‘capture’ a Sam and bring it west.

There wasn’t though a man, woman or child heading towards the Connemara Hills last Sunday evening with maroon cladding, who wasn’t filled with pride at the sheer audacity, spirit and integrity of the Galway performance.

In a phrase often used so fondly in relation to gallant if unsuccessful Galway displays back the decades by the late Jack Mahon and borrowed from a famous ‘Western’ of the 1940s: “They died with their boots on.” And that, they all did on Sunday!



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