After this wonderful theatre, final is more of a coin-flip than ever
ICE THE EUPHORIA and reset the calendar. Harvest time has been delayed. After a heart-stopping All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park yesterday, Galway and Kilkenny must meet for a third time in this year’s championship as they seek to settle the destination of the Liam MacCarthy Cup. And after this wonderful theatre, it looks like more of an unknowable coin-flip than ever.
Not for the first time, this hurling final transcended best predictions and analysis to become something wildly unique and wonderful: a privilege for the rest of us to behold. The crowd of 81,392 yesterday witnessed new history in the old cathedral. For the first time ever, both the minor and senior hurling finals finished in draws. Both matches hinged on late frees, and when Joe Canning demonstrated glacial composure to land the last score of the match in the 73rd minute of the senior game, everyone was left slightly dazed and confused.
Kilkenny, peerless in engineering victory on these September days, left the field looking bewildered at finding themselves back at square one. Henry Shefflin, immense again, came achingly close to becoming the first hurler ever to win nine Celtic Cross medals, but that honour was prevented – or delayed, at least – by that nerveless free from Canning, who illuminated yesterday’s showpiece with a goal for the ages.
And the tens of thousands of Galway folk last night headed down the N4 in equally curious mood. The long gap back to their last win in 1988 has yet to be bridged, but leaving Croke Park having not lost an All-Ireland final was a new sensation.
Even Brian Cody, who has pretty much seen it all, seemed taken aback by the stalemate. “Mmmm . . . obviously it is so seldom you get a draw in an All-Ireland final – 1959, I think, was the last one. It is a strange feeling, I am sure, for both teams and stranger still that both games were a draw, so a very exciting day for everybody.”
When it finished, the scoreboard read 2-13 to 0-19, and contained within the lines of those scores were periods when both counties must have felt the day was tinged with their colours. In the early exchanges, Galway looked fresh and irresistibly quick as they racked up 1-5 after just 21 minutes and made the Kilkenny Septembrists look peculiarly leaden and rushed.
But with 20 minutes to go, all had changed: by then the match bore all the hallmarks of the deathless poise and self-belief which have made so many teams wither before Kilkenny.
Galway’s freewheeling scores had dried up, and when Shefflin plucked a ball from the sky and whipped over the equalising score, the stage looked set for one of those irrefutable Noreside statements. We waited for the maroon and white resolve to melt away. Instead, Anthony Cunningham’s young team plundered another goal against the most parsimonious defence in the business. They would not go away.
“We showed great character,” Cunningham said in salute. “The support we had today was the 16th man and I am just delighted that they are going to get to see version three of the saga of the summer.”
They go at it again on September 30th, the last Sunday of the month. Hold on tight.