When Galway last won back-to-back All-Ireland senior hurling titles in 1987 and 1988, Joe Cooney and Gerry McInerney and their team-mates were giants living in a world of ordinary men. There was no social media, yet they were iconic figures known the width and breadth of the country.
As former masters of the game, they still enjoy cult status. That will never change although both were more than happy to pass on the torch when the Tribesmen ended the 29-year famine for the Liam McCarthy Cup last September.
What made it even more enjoyable was that both had sons involved in that historic success – Joseph Cooney and Gearoid McInerney – as they will have again today. As they recounted earlier this week, it was, in some small way, like getting to relive those glory days again.
GMc: Ah, it was. It was mighty. There was a bit of ‘been there, done that’ and it was good to be able to give them that bit of advice. If they ask your advice, at least you might know. So, it was good.
JC: You would enjoy it a bit more when you are looking in at it rather than being caught up in it. It was even nicer because you could take it all in. And you would have relived some of the memories from our own time as well. So, we got to be both sides of the fence. It was a relief really though (last year). When we won it, I also remember it was a pure relief. You would never think at any time that you might get to tog out in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park – and win one. We were able to do that and we were awful lucky that way. That we were there ourselves and then to have the lads involved last year was great. It really was something else. Unbelievable.
SG: Times have changed since those All-Ireland victories in the 1980s – no more so than in hurling. Are you blown away with the amount of sports science going into a team’s preparation now?
JC: To a certain point, it has changed completely but, at the same time, when you hit the pitch and the ball is thrown in, it is the same. It is about the ball. You have to go and win your area, win the ball, get your scores and stop scores. It all comes down to those 70 minutes. That is the way it is. So, it hasn’t changed that way.
GMc: I suppose, whatever was going on at the time, you were going to do it. And it was different times when we were playing. You had to go with the flow. That was the way it was. It was a man’s game – and still is too. You still have to stand up for yourself and if you don’t you will be walked over. No matter what you are at now, be it hurling or life, you have to stand up for yourself every day.
SG: From your own experiences in ‘87 and ‘88, how difficult is it to put titles back-to-back?
JC: To keep yourself right for the two years was the thing. Probably, you might think you were going better than you were and you might take the foot off for a small bit but you can’t afford to do that now. I don’t think these lads are doing it now. They have been fairly consistent and they are hard to beat.
I suppose, it is hard to keep it right when you are after winning it; every team is trying to beat you and pick holes in you. So, you have to be able to stand up to that and that is the difference when you are up there. Everyone wants to knock you and it gets harder and harder and harder.
For me, though, there is a great mix in this team and you need that when you are playing. We had a good mix of players and these guys seem to be the same as well. Also, when you are after winning one, you will get it into your head too that you are harder to beat. That is the way these lads are now and we were probably the same.
SG: Do you ever feel disappointed that the three-in-a-row didn’t materialise, particularly given much of it was down to circumstances – such as the referee – outside your control?
GMc: We probably took our eye off the ball as well. We could have beaten them (Tipperary, 1989 All-Ireland semi-final) – referee and all.
JC: There was not a whole pile in that game . . .
GMc: No Joe, there was not. 1989, the refereeing was putrid but you could say the refereeing in 1990 was no better. He gave frees for nothing. But we took our eyes off the ball in 1990.
SG: You had an unbelievable first half against Cork in the 1990 All-Ireland final Joe, so for you it must have been even more disappointing?
JC: That was just how the game went. We didn’t get as many opportunities in the second half. But they were definitely two matches and two years that we left it behind us.
GMc: But this team is far more focused. They have it upstairs. They have that mental strength. There is no messing and it is tunnel vision. If we were minded like that we would have gone on and won as many titles as Kilkenny. I mean, you have to pull in the reins an odd time but, in fairness to these lads, it is very professional and very well run.
SG: Why you think you might have lost focus? Was it a West of Ireland thing?
GMc: We were always confident going up. Weren’t we Joe, in fairness? It wasn’t upstairs.
JC: No, but you have to take your chances when you are there. It doesn’t come around that often. You will get a few years and that is it. You have to do it. The last one we won was in ’88 and we were still young enough but we didn’t win one again until last year. We thought, surely to God, we would get another one before we finished. So, when you are there, you have to make the best of it.
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