SOME observers thought that they were only heading to Thurles for a hiding, but rank outsiders Galway heroically threw down the gauntlet to a seasoned Limerick outfit in a rip-roaring All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium on Saturday evening.
The defiant young men in maroon frightened the lives of the Munster champions with a stirring display which was characterised by a savage work ethic all over the field and several inspirational individual performances. It was only in the closing minutes that a Galway team out on its feet finally buckled.
Such was the admirable overall effort and commitment of Tony Ward’s charges, most of the Galway players were physically spent by the finish with three of them, Joseph Mooney, Jack Coyne and Kevin McHugo, having to leave the field through a combination of cramp and injury.
Coming in cold to a high stakes encounter against title favourites Limerick – seven of their players won All-Ireland medals at this level in 2015 – meant Galway were seriously up against it and as a thrilling semi-final headed down the home stretch, the lack of competitive preparation and physical tuning began to tell on their legs.
Strong-finishing Limerick may have registered eight of the last ten points, but their supporters in the crowd of over 6,500 were living on their nerves for much of a compelling contest, especially when Conor Whelan superbly finished high into the net in the 48th minute to put Galway two clear.
This was a semi-final which had many twists and turns, with one of the big talking points the old-style officiating of John Keenan. The Wicklow referee adopted a lenient policing of tackles by both teams and let an awful lot of illegal challenges go unpunished.
It may have added to the spectacle, but there’s little point in having a rulebook if the man in the middles takes such a benign view of what constitutes a foul. Galway were arguably the harder done by as well, particularly when the outstanding Thomas Monaghan suffered a blatant head-high challenge in the final quarter.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune