Limerick prove too strong in the end for gallant Galway after Joe Canning blow
All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Limerick 0-27 Galway 0-24
IN this extraordinary year Galway seemed set to find a new hero after losing their long-standing talisman to injury late on – but instead Limerick finished stronger to eke out a deserved victory.
The sight of Joe Canning being stretchered off after apparently being concussed by colleague Joseph Cooney shortly after the hour mark looked like a terminal blow to the Tribesmen's chances in this hard-fought affair.
However, the Tribesmen scored five without replay either side of the lengthy injury delay to somehow level matters at 22 points apiece as the game went into nine minutes of added time, with his replacement Evan Niland coming on to score twice - only for Limerick to grind out a three-point win, helped by three more scores from wing-forward Tom Morrissey.
The Treatymen literally outflanked Galway over the 80 minutes, recovering from a slow start when they struggled to cope with Tribe skipper Padraic Mannion operating in a sweeper role.
That worked well early on, blocking the centre, but Limerick then used the width of the pitch well, with wing-backs and wing-forwards excelling. Morrissey eventually scored 0-6, Gearoid Hegarty 0-4, and right half-back Diarmaid Byrnes 0-3, while left wing-back Kyle Hayes was prominent too and came close to grabbing a goal.
The 2018 All-Ireland champs carried more goal threat throughout, despite Galway's extra man in defence, but full-forward Seamus Flanagan was twice denied by goalkeeper Eanna Murphy, who also made a superb save from substitute David Reidy.
Yet some of that good work by Murphy was cancelled out by poor puck-outs, with Limerick regularly seizing on them to pick off scores, including two of their last three of the match.
In his defence, the extra man at the back, and Limerick's height advantage over Galway's reduced forward line, forced him to go short, and the green giants were waiting to pounce on every misplaced re-start.
Overall, though, Limerick were far from ruthless, failing to convert their superiority in possession – and, more importantly, twice as many scoring chances from play, 39 to 19 – into dominance on the scoreboard, with 16 wides to 11 from Galway.
Still, Limerick boss John Kiely professed himself "very satisfied with the performance, because when things aren't coming as easily as you might like, sometimes that can be a day that you back off it and just accept that maybe it's not happening for you today and you are finding it difficult - but the boys just embraced that challenge and embraced the difficulty and tried to figure out the solutions to the problems and just kept fighting and fighting and fighting. The boys coming off the bench then made a huge impact in the last 20 minutes."
It was Galway who had started well, Canning putting over the first of four sidelines cuts then quickly adding two frees.
At the other end Limerick were struggling to find any time or space, not only due to the sweeper but also with Galway selecting Sean Loftus and detailing him to man-mark Graeme Mulcahy.
The only sniff the Kilmallock man got was when Murphy played a short puc-out 1-2 with Loftus but then struck the ball straight at Mulcahy – surprised, he fumbled in, and the danger was averted.
The Galway goalkeeper embarrassed himself again when he made a meal of a tap on the back from Aaron Gillane's hurl in the 25th minute, throwing himself to the ground.
His desperation to disrupt Limerick was understandable, though – because by that stage the tide of this match had turned significantly.
Limerick had shown signs of recovery before the first water break and either side of it they scored seven out of eight scores, including five in a row, to take the lead for the first time, by 0-9 to 0-8. Hegarty was prominent in that period, as was Byrnes on the opposite side, the latter scoring twice in quick succession.
Galway were also hurt by the loss of centre-forward Cathal Mannion to an apparent hamstring injury. They did stem the flow a little, even re-taking the lead with inside-forward Brian Concannon getting his third point and Canning his third sideline, but Limerick reeled off another four scores.
Hegarty was fortunate to escape any punishment for shouldering Canning out over the sideline, hitting the Galway man in the chest, but the Portumna man picked himself up to register the last score of the half – yet another sideline cut – and leave two in at the break, Limerick leading by 0-15 to 0-13.
Galway replaced the out-of-sorts David Burke at half-time, sending on Fintan Burke, and threw Jason Flynn into the fray 10 minutes into the half, but made little impact as Limerick stretched their advantage to five, 0-21 to 0-16.
This time, though, it was the Tribesmen who seemed to benefit from the water break, chipping away at Limerick's lead, albeit thankful for Murphy denying Reidy's rising strike after fellow sub Peter Casey had caught the ball and sent him through.
On the hour, though, Galway suffered a serious blow. Joseph Cooney, pushed up on Hayes, stumbled into Canning, who fell prone. More than seven minutes of delay ensued before Canning was taken off the pitch.
The king of sideline cuts being sidelined himself hit Galway's hopes of a remarkable victory, but young Niland made an instant impact – the Clarinbridge clubman converted a free from his own half, then set up Conor Whelan to score by taking a fine catch.
When Niland then pointed himself and Fintan Burke scored Galway's fifth sideline of the match, another astonishing result appeared possible.
Yet that man Morrissey punished a puc-out and put over a free after Hegarty was fouled following more dithering in the Galway defence.
This was far from thrilling hurling, but Limerick won't mind as they head into a repeat of the Munster final against Waterford, who are seeking to end their 61-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Such an outcome is almost to be expected now, but at least Limerick avoided somehow snatching defeat from a game they generally bossed.
Galway: E Murphy; A Harte, Daithi Burke, S Loftus; S Cooney, G McInerney, J Cooney (0-1); P Mannion (capt.), J Coen; J Canning (0-12, 0-8 frees, 0-4 sidelines), C Mannion (0-1), David Burke; B Concannon (0-3), C Cooney, C Whelan (0-3).
Substitutes: A Tuohey (0-1) for C Mannion (24, inj.); F Burke (0-1 sideline) for David Burke (h-t); J Flynn for C Cooney (45); S Linnane for S Cooney (52); E Niland (0-2, 0-1 free) for Canning (68, inj.).
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes (0-3, 0-1 free), D Hannon (capt.) (0-1), K Hayes; D O'Donovan, W O'Donoghue; G Hegarty (0-4), C Lynch (0-2), T Morrissey (0-6, 0-1 free); A Gillane (0-6, 0-5 frees), S Flanagan (0-2), G Mulcahy.
Substitutes: P Casey (0-2) for Mulcahy (40); D Reidy for O'Donovan (52); A Breen (0-1) for Flanagan (62); P O'Loughlin for Hannon (74); P Ryan for Gillane (76).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).