Cunningham rues chances that went a begging
STILL SEARCHING for phrases, to sing their praises – because when you rage, rage against the machine, and the dying of the light, so wise men at the end know what is right.
It’s what happens after an All-Ireland hurling final that turned irreversibly in the minutes when Galway’s chances disappeared, and Kilkenny once again took the best of theirs: the homage is unavoidable, that after surrendering to fate, nothing could or would have made a difference to the end result.
Anthony Cunningham has that look on his face, the Galway manager once again flanked by his two selectors, Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert, the position of solidarity that now comes as standard in their moment of reflection, in victory or defeat. If this game turned on that haze of activity in and around the 44th minute, then so too did Cunningham’s assessment of it.
Sure, Galway had their chance then: Cyril Donnellan’s goal called back, as it was, for a free instead; then Joe Canning’s shot shuddering the bottom of the post; then Donnellan’s reckless strike and irredeemable red card – so that then, after that, it was all about Kilkenny, and hailing to the chiefs.
“Sure, those three things,” says Cunningham. “For Cyril’s shot, why he stopped it up, or whatever, well that’s the referees call, but we were very, very unfortunate not to have got the goal at that period, because we felt we were on top at the time.
“Then a tremendous shot by Joe, off the foot off the post, and out the field. Then Cyrill’s (red card). It was a hard match, but I don’t think it was in any way dirty, and maybe he was unfortunate, as he was our top forward there in the first half, he’d a great chance of a goal before half-time as well. Small things like changes matches, sure. But we fought tremendously hard, and we’re extremely proud of our players, for the effort they put in.”
Still, to be beaten so comprehensibly in the final quarter seems particularly incomprehensible, and that possibly troubles Cunningham more than the end result.
“Well, even though we were four points down at half-time we thought we were well in it, and had played very well in the first half. But you need to get the breaks against probably the best team to ever come out of Kilkenny. You need to get all those chances, but the best team won and we’ve no complaints.”
Certainly no complaints about the decision to start goalkeeper James Skehill, despite the still obvious pain from the shoulder injury sustained only last Friday: “I don’t think so. It was expertly dealt with by our medical team on Friday night. He was unfortunate to have fallen awkwardly on it, and it was a partial dislocation, but we had tremendous medical backup.“And we fought back well in the first half, got two great goals, and were extremely happy at half-time, and just needed to drive it on. We drove on there in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the few chances then that we could have got went a begging and that was hard-luck, particularly the one (goal chance) he blew up for the free.”
Cunningham and his wise men then bow to the inevitable, that once Kilkenny sniffed the victory, then killed the game, with the goal from Walter Walsh, it was to be their day of days. “They’re tremendous athletes, tremendous hurlers, just born to play hurling, really. When you love the game like us, play seven nights a week, it’s just sad we’re not 21 again, to be able to match them, out there.
“Like Henry Shefflin winning his ninth medal. What tremendous players. Eoin Larkin, Richie Power. Their defenders, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, JJ. I mean they’re idols in our books, and anyone that plays hurling, they’re the guys at the very top.”
“I suppose it’s one piece of consolation, to be the second best team in Ireland, to this super team. But we’ll stay knocking on the door. We beat them in a Leinster final this year. We’ll want to beat them in an All-Ireland next year, that’ll be the aim.”