Galway and Waterford emerge from crowd to face hierarchy

Cork and Dublin trail in wake of counties playing like they have something to prove

It falls to Galway and Waterford to provide the spice of novelty as this year's All-Ireland hurling championship reaches its high summer crossroads. Four counties left now. Tipp and Kilkenny, the old firm, will still be heavy favourites to duke it out on another September Sunday.

But nobody can deny that there is a furnace burning within Derek McGrath's young Waterford team. Dublin, after a faltering season, became the latest county to experience the heat of that. And nobody can argue that the Galway hurlers can, on their day, leave people open to persuasion that anything, anything is possible.

Is there something different about Galway this year? 2-28 is a serious score to post, even against a Cork team that specialises in open games. But it was the 22 wides that the Tribesmen posted in addition that raised eyebrows. They peppered the Cork posts with shots some 50 times.

"I wouldn't say it was clinical," said Joe Canning. "I don't know what the wide count was. 22? That is not clinical. I suppose we are creating chances but we need to improve on that the next day. I dunno how many I had myself, six or seven or probably closer to 10."


Canning could smile on a rare afternoon when his coordinates betrayed him: he shot some poor wides and some mad wides as he sought a way into a quarter-final. But in summers gone, a series of Canning wides would create a worm hole through which all Galway confidence and belief would vanish from the stadium.

Not here. Cathal Mannion fired seven silky points from play, Johnny Glynn opened Galway's account with a goal and had a storming hour and young Conor Whelan, plucked from the vast repertoire of Galway underage stars, hit 1-2 on his championship debut. This win was not a Joe Show and all the more reassuring for that.

Swift exodus

“It is a team game,” Canning shrugged. “Nobody leans on anybody. We need to put pressure on ourselves to perform individually and then come together as a team and if we can do that week in week out then we are not too bad at all.”

Whelan’s goal, with five minutes to go, prompted a swift exodus from Thurles as Rebel fans journeyed south to contemplate a truly dispiriting weekend. Saturday night’s defeat in the football qualifiers on a wintry July night at Semple stadium was completed by this defeat of the hurling brethren less than 24 hours later.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s team laced together some nice scores here but were always chasing. There was a five-minute period, with the score at 1-20 to 0-19 and Cork pressing hard, when old demons must have travelled through the Galway crowd – not least the thought of last summer’s collapse against Tipperary. Doubts flickered about whether or not their hurlers had the coldness to claim a game that was patently theirs to take. But crucially, Galway did not wobble. They finished strongly.

So too did Waterford, whose arc of improvement for the season is bordering on the indecent. They were almost businesslike in their 2-21 to 1-18 dismissal of Dublin, entertaining the neutrals in the crowd of 33, 150 with a tit-for-tat exchange of points in the first half before bewildering the metropolitans with an intense squeeze of pressure and scores just after half-time. Shane Bennett’s bullet off a strike in the 38th minute gave Waterford daylight.

“With all the talk of systems and structures it was good to see a good old fashioned goal off the ground,” said McGrath. “In Waterford there was a certain sense of talking about Dublin as a potential banana skin or they’ll be tricky. I was trying to keep that out of the dressing room. I was lost in that particular summation of Dublin because, Jesus, Dublin are a serious team.”

Buzz generated

Dublin will recognise the buzz generated by this Waterford team over the summer. Not so long ago, that sound belonged to them. From the unfashionable suburbs of Division One B, Waterford come roaring into the capital now with their urgency and supremely structured game plan for a tantalising All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny.

Plenty of history and family along the border at Ferrybank but this semi-final presents McGrath and his young team with a supreme challenge. Plenty of history, too, between Tipp and Galway. It seems longer than just a year since Galway combusted against Tipp here in Thurles after working themselves into a seven-point lead.

“I think we were six or seven points up or something like that with a few minutes to go,” Canning said vaguely, as if it were a night he hadn’t thought about in a long while. “And we were very annoyed with ourselves when we let that slip.”

That was the crucial thing. There was no slip-up here. They pressed on. For the first time in many years, Galway won a big championship game at a canter. Galway and Waterford will hurl into August under no great expectations from the outside world. But they might have given the prime candidates a thing or two to think about.

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times