Na Piarsaigh 1-11
PORTUMNA’S proven package of big-day experience and inherent quality propelled the Galway champions to a remarkable fifth All-Ireland Club hurling final in nine years in much more comfortable fashion than many neutrals had anticipated in wretched conditions at Semple Stadium last Saturday evening.
A miserly crowd of 1,820 underlined the madness of the GAA’s decision to schedule this attractive fixture for a floodlit setting in early February, but those perished punters who turned up in Thurles were given a sharp reminder of the talents which had stamped Portumna as a class apart from all challengers when in their prime.
The triple All-Ireland champions may have lacked the swashbuckling flamboyance of a few years ago in dismissing the ultimately disappointing and disjointed efforts of the Limerick title holders, but they executed the basics with an economy which simply had to be admired in really hostile conditions.
Portumna hardly wasted possession all evening, with their team-work, link up play and superior craft proving far too potent a cocktail for a Na Piarsaigh outfit which were always playing catch up after a dreadful start. It didn’t help their cause either that key players such as James O’Brien and Shane Dowling never got to the pitch of the battle.
We had worried that Portumna would struggle to match the hunger and energy of Sean Stack’s troops, but those fears were utterly groundless in the end. The Galway men know what fixtures at this level are all about and though Na Piarsaigh are hardly novices any longer – appearing in their second semi-final in three years – they were made to look like them.
There may have been only four points dividing the teams at the finish, but the scoreboard hardly reflected Portumna’s overall authority as a terrific team performance was peppered with a string of outstanding individual displays. They had done the donkey work in the opening-half when facing the driving rain and wind.
As usual, the team’s old guard used all of their cunning and class to punch big holes in Na Piarsaigh’s challenge, but Saturday evening also saw some of the pressure being relieved from their shoulders as two relative newcomers at opposite ends of the field came of age with significant contributions.
In defence, young Conor O’Hare was in tremendous fettle, rising to the demands of the occasion in great style while his measured clearances typified Portumna’s heads-up hurling. Up front, county minor Ronan O’Meara exploded on the big stage and within 12 minutes had an invaluable goal and two points to his credit.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Corofin show no mercy in thrashing hapless Oughterard
IS there anything to be said for splitting Corofin in two? We jest, of course, but the Dublin-like dominance of the North Galway club on the local scene in the past decade shows no sign of abating.
A new championship, a new-look team, but the same old classy Corofin who were in seventh heaven after bagging a record seven goals in their 27-points victory over hapless Oughterard.
That Kevin O’Brien could spring dual county star, Daithi Burke, and Galway senior footballer Ian Burke, as second-half substitutes when the game was over as a contest, highlights the embarrassment of riches in the Corofin camp.
Nine of Corofin’s starters were on the starting 15 that won an historic three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles in January, but the introduction of former Galway minor Matthew Cooley, who scored a goal off the bench on his senior club debut, highlighted, too, how they have young talent coming through.
Leaving aside the lack of resistance, particularly in the second half, the ruthless manner in which Corofin annihilated their Connemara opponents was frightening for all other pretenders to the throne.
As warnings go, this was savage, as Corofin signalled their intent about securing an eighth successive county title, with a clinical brushing aside of an Oughterard outfit whose heads-dropped early. Corofin had 11 different scorers, including seven goal scorers; all bar one of their 17 points, were from play.
Darragh Silke who finished with 1-7, ran riot in the second half, and was the game’s best performer, and Micheál Lundy (1-3) proved a handful on the inside line, but Corofin had quality dotted all over the field, and in truth, won without clicking into high gear.
If things went their way in the opening half, Oughterard’s spirits might not have been drained so soon, but they failed to convert the chances they had.
That was the big difference in the first half-hour: Corofin converted 10 out of 10 scoring opportunities that presented themselves, whereas Oughterard hit five wides, including two shots that should at the very least have troubled goalkeeper Bernard Power.
For Oughterard, this will cut deep. The 2019 All-Ireland intermediate winners were unbeaten in championship last season but got a rude awakening on their re-introduction to senior. Their first championship match back in senior in nearly 20 years, and they’re annihilated. To add to the embarrassment, it was televised live on TG4 for all to see.
It was effectively over at half-time, but it shouldn’t have been. Oughterard had enough of the play, and enough chances, to be still in with a shout at the change of ends and they just failed to punish their more ruthless opponents.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Ó Fatharta lauds minor squad for response to Mayo reversal
GALWAY minor football manager Dónal Ó Fátharta has praised his young charges for the manner in which they responded to their Connacht final defeat to Mayo.
Ó Fátharta’s squad turned on the style when taking down Leinster champions Kildare in their All-Ireland quarter-final at Pearse Park, Longford last weekend to set up a semi-final meeting against a Kerry outfit chasing an incredible six-in-a-row of titles at this grade.
However, the Galway manager admitted he was concerned initially as to how his players would respond to the provincial final loss to Mayo. “After the Connacht final, the guys were down. We gave them a week off, which we were going to do anyways. When they came back in for our meeting and the usual stuff, I was worried, but, after that meeting, I wasn’t worried. I was hopeful.
“For the last two weeks, they have worked hard. We played Dublin in a challenge and it was one of those games of 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. We were very sharp that night. That reinforced it for me that there was a performance in these guys. The next challenge is a game in Croke Park, which is another step up, but I am delighted that they are there and they have that opportunity.”
Indeed, Ó Fátharta described his players’ display against Kildare as “a complete performance”, noting: “Structurally, I think we were very good. I think we took our chances, and we did everything that we talk about doing every day. They took their chances when they had to; they worked hard; they put in shifts, and all that sort of stuff. So, we are delighted with the performance.”
See full report and reaction in Connacht Tribune Sport.
Cooney and McInerney pass on winning mentality to sons
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.