Sport

Limerick turn the tide to blow Galway away in All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final at Croke Park

Aaron Gillane of Limerick scores his and his side's second goal during the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Galway at Croke Park. Picture by Sportsfile
Aaron Gillane of Limerick scores his and his side's second goal during the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Galway at Croke Park. Picture by Sportsfile Aaron Gillane of Limerick scores his and his side's second goal during the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Galway at Croke Park. Picture by Sportsfile

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Limerick 2-24 Galway 1-18 

With 25 breathless minutes gone in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, Nickie Quaid needed to take a break. As Henry Shefflin, his Galway backroom staff, and the maroon-clad supporters among the near-60,000 captivated souls at Croke Park roared their scepticism, the Limerick goalkeeper got the attention he felt he needed for an unseen malady. 

He was about the puck the ball out after Evan Niland’s pointed free, his seventh of the half, had pushed a rampaging Galway six points clear of the floundering All-Ireland champions. 

After the match Shefflin noted that “of course it broke the momentum” but you have to be ready for Limerick and their “experience and guile”, while also being at pains to point out that it shouldn’t have precipitated what happened next. 

That was a thunderous turnaround of the type Limerick have engineered more than once as this team has carved its face into hurling’s Mount Rushmore. 

“They’ve got the hurlers too,” Shefflin added. 

Between Niland’s free and the half, John Kiely’s side outscored Galway 0-6 to 0-1. The second half was 1-10 to 0-5. But before all that Galway had them chasing shadows, and Kiely knew it. 

“Galway were setting the terms of the game,” he said. 

“They were very strong on their own puckout in particular, but they were getting to breaking ball as well and they were that bit more efficient. I think we hit a few poor wides during that phase that would have kept us a little bit closer. 

“We were definitely playing second fiddle at that point, but the response of the boys was good. We managed to close in on their puckout a little bit, we managed to get a few more possessions into our players in the middle third – Cian [Lynch], David Reidy, Darragh O’Donovan, Gearoid [Hegarty], Tom Morrissey. 

“Our half-back line became very solid and stopped the ball going in behind them and it was a good platform for us coming into the last 10 minutes and we closed out the first half very strong. 

“I think we didn’t realise it at the time but I think the game was in a pattern at that stage… we were in ascendancy, and we stayed there for the rest of the game.” 

Even though Limerick pulled one back from a Diarmuid Byrnes free in the immediate action after Quaid eventually restarted, Galway then had the chance to keep the game out of that pattern Kiely would end up being so grateful for. 

Kevin Cooney got onto a break from Eanna Murphy’s puckout and played in Brian Concannon, whose first time shot beat everyone except Mike Casey and his outstretched hurl. Inches from eight points up, instead Galway, who inexplicably stepped off their opponents after half-an-hour of superb pressure play, found themselves getting squeezed and punished by a Limerick side finding their form and their range and went in at the break leading by just the one, 1-13 to 1-12. 

Galway’s play in that opening 25 minutes deserved more, with Limerick not allowed to settle, Concannon roaming around at his leisure and Conor Whelan proving unmarkable inside. Cathal Mannion scored their goal in the 15th minute, eschewing his sweeper role of recent matches to get forward and on the end of brilliant work by Cooney before firing past Quaid. 

“We spoke beforehand about playing the game on our terms,” said Shefflin.  

“It probably went like that for the first 22-23 minutes but thereafter they wrestled it back. We really struggled from there. 

“We started the game very, very well. Maybe it was that we had that extra match [against Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-final]. Our puckouts were working very well but they started to get back on terms but going in at half-time one point up felt it wasn’t just enough for us. 

“We knew that Limerick are a strong quarter three team and you’re hoping just to stay in the game and start to come a little bit. But they were starting to really get going and ratchet it up and we were putting out fires all over the place.” 

Limerick set the tone for that third quarter from the throw-in when they drew level in the most Limerick way imaginable. A dispossession around their half back-line, a short stick pass bounced off the turf and an even shorter handpass around a midfield triangle to create the space for a diagonal ball, knocked down one-handed into the path of Seamus Flanagan, who swept it over the bar. 

Galway did reply immediately through Whelan to suggest both he and his team might repeat what had served them so well in the first half-hour or so. But that was it. Once Byrnes converted a 38th-minute free, Limerick were never behind. The closest Galway came was within four, 0-15 to 1-16. Seconds later Eanna Murphy’s net was billowing and the game was up. 

The goal came after a remarkable passage of play. Lynch found a rampaging David Reidy who cut the same line Mannion had for Galway’s goal. With the space more populated by bodies this time he flicked a no-look pass across the square to Gillane, who batted it against the Galway bar. Padraic Mannion flailed a stick at the sliotar but only managed to deflect it into the path of Gillane, who swept home the goal that put the argument to bed.

It was Gillane’s second goal of the game, his first coming after just five minutes when he plucked an arrowed ball in from Tom Morrissey from above the head of Daithi Burke before smashing home. The Patrickswell man finished with 2-6, but it was midfielder Darragh O’Donovan who was named a deserved man of the match by RTE, while the man named next to O’Donovan at midfield, William O’Donoghue, did a stellar job dropping back and deputising for injured captain Declan Hannon at centre-back. 

Afterwards, Kiely said Hannon has “every chance” of recovering in time to lead Limerick out in the final, with the prospect of lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the fifth time. The record books are being flattened under this Limerick steamroller and there’s nothing to suggest they’ll be stopping any time soon. 

MATCH STATS

Limerick: N Quaid: M Casey, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes (0-3 frees), K Hayes (0-2), G Hegarty (0-2); D O’Donovan (0-1), W O’Donoghue; D Reidy (0-1), C Lynch (0-1), T Morrissey (0-2); A Gillane (2-6, 0-5 frees), S Flanagan (0-2), P Casey (0-2). 

Subs: C O’Neill (0-1) for T Morrissey (56), G Mulcahy (0-1) for Casey (67), C Boylan for Hegarty (69), A English for O’Donovan (70+3), O O’Reilly for Flanagan (70+3). 

Galway: E Murphy; J Grealish, D Burke, D Morrissey; P Mannion, G McInerney, J Cooney; S Linnane, C Mannion (1-1); R Glennon, C Fahy, K Cooney (0-1); C Whelan (0-3), B Concannon (0-3), E Niland (0-9 frees). 

Subs: T Monaghan (0-1) for Glennon (50), C Cooney for Linnane (54), F Burke for Fahy (67). 

Referee: J Owens (Wexford) 

Attendance: 59,739