Galway find what they are looking for while Waterford live to fight another day
Tribesmen to meet Kilkenny in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final
Waterford's Shane Fives and Niall Burke of Galway at Walsh Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Sure there had to be some biblical theme to the day, although this was less about any further resurrection of Waterford hurling as it was some good old Ecclesiastes. As it turned out Waterford aren’t rising up or down, and must be content to stay where they are – which is not necessarily a bad thing, as they could easily have ended up in the relegation play-off, had results elsewhere not gone their way.
Galway found more of what they were looking for, and not just in the final score: in defeating Waterford they automatically secured one of the three semi-final berths from Division 1A, based on the head-to-head, without anyone resorting to the pocket calculator, the only surprising twist it in all is that they’ll face Kilkenny – again.
“Sure we always love playing Kilkenny,” said Anthony Cunningham, the Galway manager hardly disguising a wry smile. “Look it, we are just delighted, don’t care who we play, so long as we were in the semi-finals.”
Here and now
That will, however, mark their sixth meeting in 12 months, including this and last year’s league, plus their three meetings in the championship. Yet there was a sense throughout the game that Galway needed this outcome more than Waterford did, that it meant more to their season in the here and now.
“Definitely great for us,” added Cunningham, “because what you want at this time of year is matches. We’ve still loads to work on after today, and we won’t be getting carried away. We’d a lot of wides, and probably a couple more chances we could have finished, so there is always work to do.
“But this gives us a few weeks of work and a focus. There is no abundance of league medals in Galway and what a great thing to get a crack at Kilkenny again. It is what we want."
Waterford will feel they had Galway for the taking in the closing quarter, and definitely finished the stronger. The problem was closing down their first-half deficit, after trailing Galway 0-8 to 0-3 (and going 27 minutes without a score): they did outscore Galway nine points to seven in the second half, Maurice Shanahan hitting 0-7 of those, six from placed balls, but it was too little too late.
Besides, Cunningham had his men well warned: “Yeah we worked on that a small bit, introduced a few subs, because Waterford are very fit. Kevin Moran was lording it there in the last 20 minutes, and they have done that. So we warned the guys at half-time. And good to see us holding our concentration after we lapsed, I think, the last day.”
Galway certainly out-muscled Waterford in the first half, Davy Glennon laying down a marker with the first of four excellent points, Iarla Tannian showing up well, plus Conor Cooney, one of three St Thomas’ players urgently recalled after their All-Ireland club success, despite word last week that they’d be left alone until the summer. They did add an extra dimension to Galway’s attack, and yet Joe Canning was still their most persistent threat, even though he hit six of Galway's 10 wides.
Over the line
Waterford closed the gap to just three points, on 50 minutes, then surrendered two more points, to David Burke and Glennon (after a sweet pass from Canning), and without the goal that didn’t come Waterford were never going to get over the line first.
“Goal scoring is something we’ll have to address,” said manager Michael Ryan. Normally you don’t win games unless you get a goal or two, so that’s something we’ll have to look at. As the year goes on we may tweak our game plan to get fellas closer to goal, in dangerous positions.
“We are disappointed not to be going to the semi-finals, but it’s been a good league overall. We’ve discovered a few things about guys, a few fellas have had their character tested, and overall I’m happy enough with the league.”
It could have been different had Ryan’s team not stood off Galway so tamely early on. “But I’m happy enough with our second-half performance. There were one or two incidents in there I thought we could have had a penalty. But I couldn’t fault our lads’ commitment in the second half.”
What both Ryan and Cunningham agreed on was the strangely erratic refereeing of Anthony Stapleton, who, for example, awarded 14 Waterford frees in the second half, compared to Galway’s one. “Maybe the rules have changed slightly,” suggested Cunningham, “but no one has told us. We’ll just have to work at getting sharper on how they referee the games now.”
They’ll have perfect test of that against Kilkenny – again.