All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final
GALWAY 0-22 TIPPERARY 1-18
By John Harrington for Gaa.ie
The GAA should consider installing oxygen booths outside Croke Park for occasions like this, because it would have taken every single one of the 68,184 supporters a long time to catch their breath after such an epic game of hurling.
Galway are through to the All-Ireland Final and reigning Champions Tipperary are dethroned, but those fundamentals don’t come close to summing up the day’s drama.
A draw would have been the fairest result really because there was so little to choose between the teams, but when Galway needed a moment of magic most Joe Canning stepped up to provide it.
It was Tipperary’s bad luck that the ball should land in the hand of one of the sweetest strikers in the game at that moment, but you have to doff your cap to the Portumna man for striking it so cleanly under pressure from the sideline around 60 yards out.
It was always going to take something special like that to separate two teams who produced a game of hurling for the ages.
Tipperary will take no solace from having been on the wrong side of a classic, because that’s an experience they’re all too used to.
From the very start this was helter skelter thrill a minute contest.
Tipperary came into the game with question marks hanging over them, but from the off they showed they were in the mood to prove their doubters wrong as they raced into 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
Galway settled though, and it quickly became clear their tactic was to target the Tipperary full-back line by hitting the ball in high and long to their inside forward line of Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney and Cathal Mannion whenever possible.
The dominance of Johnny Coen and David Burke in the middle of the park for much of the first-half gave them the platform to do just that, and between the eight and the 21st minute they outscored Tipp by seven points to just one in reply.
Whelan in particular was looking really sharp, scoring two points in this period, and generally causing panic in the Tipperary rear-guard whenever the ball came his way.
The Tipperary management moved quickly to address Galway’s dominance in the middle third by moving Dan McCormack into midfield beside Brendan Maher, and the two Borris-Ileigh men worked like dogs to drag back Tipp into the contest.
Paudie Maher helped light the fuse for their revival too with an inspirational point, and then John McGrath struck for an opportunistic goal to level the game, 1-6 to 0-9.
Galway must have wondered how a game they had dominated for a long stretch was now tied up, and Tipp did their best to plant more seeds of doubt by finishing the first half the stronger side to take 1-10 to 0-12 lead into the dressing-room.
The second half of the game will go down in the annals of hurling as one of the most absorbing to and fro contests we’ve ever seen.
Like two evenly matched heavyweights, both teams landed blow after counter-blow with neither even flinching.
First it looked like Tipperary had seized the initiative when Brendan Maher and Padraic Maher hit two inspirational points. But then the momentum switched Galway’s way when Padraic Mannion landed an incredible free from long distance, Colm Callanan saved from a Noel McGrath shot, and then Canning landed a classy point.
Two points was a big lead in a game of such fine margins, but Tipperary refused to give up the fight and were energised again when John O’Dwyer fired over another incredible point.
Tipp were living on their nerves at times had had two close escapes when Jason Flynn twice had shots at goal, but they had clawed themselves level by the 66th minute thanks to O’Dwyer again.
They might have had their noses in front by that stage had Seamus Callanan not missed two ‘65s, but it would rankly unfair to lay any blame at the Drom-Inch man’s door for the final result because Joe Canning missed some very scorable frees too.
When Canning needed to hit them sweetly though he did, and a massive free from long range edge Galway one clear ahead shortly after that score from O’Dwyer.
Tipp came again though when Brendan Maher held his nerve two minutes into injury-time to land a long-range free of his own to level it up again.
It looked like both teams would have to do it all over again at that stage, but we had one last act of great drama.
Joe Canning tried his luck with another long range free from deep inside his own half that fell short and Tipperary managed to clear their lines.
But the ball came to Johnny Coen who had the presence of mind to turn backwards and pick out Canning with the hand-pass.
The Portumna man didn’t have time to look at the posts, but the great players know instinctively where they are and his Hail Mary effort sailed between them.
You had to feel sorry for Tipperary for losing a great match in the manner they did, but credit to the victors.
Canning and Conor Whelan will get a lot of the plaudits for the points they scored, but the Tribesmen had heroes in defence too, most notably centre-back Gearoid McInerney who caught some incredible ball, put in some seriously big hits, and consistently cleared his lines.
Galway’s mental fortitude was questioned in the wake of their 2012 and 2015 All-Ireland Final defeats to Kilkenny, but this team proved beyond all doubt today they have as much bottle as ability.
If they raise their game again for the All-Ireland Final, they’ll take some serious stopping.
Scorers for Galway: Joe Canning 0-11 (6f, 1 ’65, 1 sideline), Conor Whelan 0-4, Conor Cooney 0-2, Johnny Coen 0-2, Cathal Mannion 0-1, Joseph Cooney 0-1, Padraic Mannion 0-1 (f).
Scorers for Tipperary: Seamus Callanan 0-5 (3f), John McGrath 1-0, John O’Dwyer 0-3, Noel McGrath 0-3, Brendan Maher 0-3 (2f), Padraic Maher 0-2, Seamus Kennedy 0-1.
GALWAY: Colm Callanan; Adrian Tuohey, Daithi Burke, John Hanbury; Padraic Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Niall Burke, Joseph Cooney, Joe Canning; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Cathal Mannion. Subs: Jason Flynn for Niall Burke (45), Jonathan Glynn for Cathal Mannion (53), Shane Maloney for Conor Cooney (69).
TIPPERARY: Darren Gleeson; Donagh Maher, James Barry, Michael Cahill; Seamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher; Brendan Maher, Michael Breen; Dan McCormack, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher; John O’Dwyer, Seamus Callanan, John McGrath. Subs: Jason Forde for Michael Breen (34), Niall O’Meara for Jason Forde (61).
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)