Limerick hold off late Galway surge to end 45 years of hurt in All-Ireland final
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final: Galway 2-18 Limerick 3-16
AFTER five agonising final defeats, 45 years of hurt and a hellish rollercoaster ride in the excruciating last moments of yesterday’s All-Ireland decider, now we can finally – finally - believe the hype.
Whisper it no longer, shout from the rooftops if you want – even John Kiely can’t put this jack back in the box. Limerick are kings of Ireland, kings of the world, and boy do they deserve it.
But they didn’t half put their long-suffering supporters through the mill before getting there.
When super-sub Shane Dowling blasted them into an eight point lead with only two minutes of the 70 remaining, the men, women and children in green could have been tempted to breathe a sigh of relief.
Many of them, though, are around long enough to know better than that. Plenty at Croke Park yesterday were old enough to remember the ecstasy of ’73, with the agony ever since fresher still.
And when Niall Burke fired over the bar in the seventh minute of added time, it looked like another tale of woe, one more gut-wrenching than any to have gone before, was unfolding before their eyes
Somehow, despite being a distant second best for much of the game, Galway only trailed by a point with time still on the clock.
A force of nature performance from Joe Canning in the dying stages - topped off with a thudding free that threatened to rip the net from the goal – looked set to bury memories of a first half in which he barely featured at all, the Portumna powerhouse dragging his under-performing team-mates up by the bootstraps.
And it was on his broad shoulders that Galway’s hopes rested in the final play of the game as he stood over a free from all of 90-plus metres under the Hogan Stand. The flagging Limerick players could only watch and pray. Surely he can’t? If anyone can, Canning can…
But even Joe is human.
Late sub Tom Condon the man to emerge from the pack as the free dropped short, taking off towards the Hogan Stand like a greyhound as referee James Owens pressed the whistle to his lips.
What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago a Limerick side containing no shortage of men with miles of road behind them froze on the greatest stage of all. Ollie Moran recalled during the week how six of their number - himself included – had actually turned the wrong way coming out of the tunnel, despite weeks of meticulous preparation.
The wall of noise hit them, the smells and the sounds of All-Ireland final day and all of a sudden their senses were clogged. Two early goals for Kilkenny and their dream was dead.
Many feared the same could happen yesterday. After all, Galway had developed a habit through the summer of lightening fast starts, and the chance to unsettle such a young Limerick side early doors surely formed part of Micheal Donoghue’s pre-match thinking.
But, whether it was Kiely’s very public bid to kill the hype or not, the class of 2018 weren’t cowed by the occasion this time around.
Instead it was the Treatymen who did the unsettling, flying head first into Galway and forcing turnovers as the Tribe flailed and fumbled in the face of it all.
Limerick already led by a point when the superb Kyle Hayes cut out an Adrian Tuohey pass and fired over. With Aaron Gillane running off his left shoulder, there had also been a chance to inflict further early damage. More would come.
Midfield duo Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan started strongly, while the clever movement of the experienced Graeme Mulcahy and Seamus Flanagan threatened to give Tuohey and John Hanbury twisted blood.
At the other end, there was no sign of the anticipated electric start from Galway, with surprisingly little ball going in the direction of the towering Johnny Glynn and, even when it did, Michael Casey – with a little help from his friends – was well able for it.
Conor Cooney, Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion, even Canning, they were barely involved as Limerick seized control.
You always felt that Kiely’s men were going to need goals if they were really going to rock Galway, though, and the first of three duly arrived 16 minutes in to put them 1-5 to 0-6 ahead. Flanagan drifted out to get on the ball, found Hayes in space on the left of the square and he arrowed an inch-perfect pass into the path of Mulcahy who, despite losing possession, somehow bundled the sliothar to the net.
Minutes later Limerick intercepted another loose ball, this time a risky Padraic Mannion pass towards a static Canning, and captain Declan Hannon – so impressive in the first half – rampaged forward to score the first of two quickfire points.
Donoghue tried moving Glynn out around half-forward but still they couldn’t get him involved enough. For all their control though, Limerick still shot 11 wides in the first half and might have felt disappointed to be only four ahead at the break, 1-10 to 0-9.
They pressed home their advantage upon the resumptiom, Hayes with three classy scores, and led by eight 10 minutes in.
Another goal turned the screw further, Gearoid McInerney caught in possession by Tom Morrisey who bounded forward, cut inside and slotted past James Skehill. When Limerick introduced Shane Dowling from the bench a minute, you almost started to fear for Galway.
Skehill prevented a third goal with a brave block on Flanagan that led to the Galway ‘keeper being replaced, but when Dowling rattled the net to leave eight in it heading towards added time, the gig looked all but up for the Tribesmen.
It came about from another mistake, this time Tuohey caught dilly-dallying and Peter Casey fed his fellow sub who was never going to miss with the goal at his mercy.
But Galway weren’t reigning All-Ireland champions for nothing, and Canning certainly isn’t the star of a generation without justification either.
Whelan offered a glimmer of light four minutes into the eight allocated for added time when he made no mistake after a looping pass from Jason Flynn was broken down by Glynn.
A minute later, an almighty hush descended on Croke Park as Canning stood over a 20 metre free after Nickie Quaid touched the sliothar with his hand outside the small square. If this went in, we were down to a two point game.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man as Canning sent a bullet beyond the Limerick ‘keeper. Even the big screen slo-mos had trouble keeping up.
Was 45 years of hurt about to extend into a 46th? From a done deal seven minutes previous, suddenly all bets were off, especially when Niall Burke cut the deficit to one.
Mulcahy and Canning traded scores before Joe was afforded one last chance to pull it out of the fire. It would have been tremendously harsh on Limerick, but there’s no room for sentiment when the stakes are so high.
Yet, so late in the day, even the great man couldn’t summon the kind of monster effort required, the ball dropping short as Limerick players fell to their knees while some just ran because their bodies didn’t know what else to do.
Shades of green on the field of dreams, it was a fitting fairytale end to a Championship summer few will ever forget.
Galway: J Skehill; A Tuohy, D Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, D Burke (0-3); J Cooney (0-3), J Canning (1-10, 1-5 frees, 0-2 65s), J Glynn; C Whelan (1-0), C Cooney, C Mannion. Subs: N Burke (0-1) for C Mannion (45), P Killeen for Hanbury (57), J Flynn for C Cooney (58), F Flannery for Skehill (61)
Yellow cards: G McInerney (35+3), P Mannion (43)
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes (0-1), D Hannon (0-2), D Morrissey; D O’Donovan (0-1), Cian Lynch (0-1); G Hegarty, K Hayes (0-4), T Morrissey (1-1); A Gillane (0-3, 0-1 free), S Flanagan (0-1), G Mulcahy (1-2). Subs: R McCarthy for Casey (48), S Dowling (1-0) for Hegarty (56), P Casey for Flanagan (64), W O’Donoghue for O’Donovan (67), T Condon for English (67).
Yellow cards: G Hegarty (30), A Gillane 42)
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)