‘If you don’t have work rate and intensity, you don’t have any chance against Kilkenny’
MATCH REACTION:The Galway management took their time arriving at the post-match conference but in fairness, this was a day that had been a long time coming. Manager Anthony Cunningham has had a bewildering range of charges over the past 12 months since taking the county under-21s to last year’s All-Ireland.
In the space of little more than seven months he has also staged two notable ambushes in Leinster finals, having brought Garrycastle to a surprise, first provincial club football title at the end of 2011.
Yesterday it was the turn of All-Ireland hurling champions Kilkenny, un-backable favourites for a 14th provincial title in 15 years. Having racked up Galway’s historic first Leinster hurling title, Cunningham emphasised the collegiality of his management team by bringing Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny to meet the media.
So how did he explain a match in which his players had scorched the earth beneath what is widely regarded as the best hurling collective in the game’s history? “We’d been going well in training. It’s great when things you work on come off in a big game. We’re delighted to be the first Galway team to win a Leinster final. It’s a Leinster campaign – we’re delighted to have won it but after this evening we’ll be fully focused on the All-Ireland semi-final.
“We’d be very happy with work rate. If you don’t have work rate and intensity, you don’t have any chance against Kilkenny. What a fantastic record they have. It’s unreal how many games they’ve gone in Leinster without being defeated.”
If the attacking sweep caught the breath – they led 2-11 to 0-1 after half an hour – the defence also stepped up its performance on recent outings, as selector Tom Helebert explained.
“We got some stick for the goals against Westmeath and Offaly but with the exception of the first goal against Offaly which was a careless little ball out of defence, the rest came against us at times when we were well ahead and we lost concentration.
“We knew that structurally the defence had the right shape to it. David Collins coming back was a big boost. They brought a lot of discipline to their game today and a good sense of direction in what they did.”
Amidst the excitement and satisfaction was the acknowledgement that Kilkenny had not disappeared and would be plotting a path, albeit unexpectedly, back into the All-Ireland series through the qualifiers.
“There’s nothing worse than a wounded cat and they for sure will be back,” said Cunningham. “They were probably a bit off colour early on today. They have a few players to come into this team which are huge players.”
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was subdued but keen to emphasise that he had not been blind-sided. Asked was he disappointed and surprised he replied: “I’m not sure about the ‘surprised’ bit to be honest. I haven’t a different story to what I had before the game. I said they were capable of beating us and we were capable of beating them on different days, whatever way the game works out.
“They obviously got on top of the game very, very early and they were by far the better team and that’s the way it works: the better team always wins on the day. Our response wasn’t good enough in the first half, for sure, but we’re certainly not going to win the Leinster championship because that’s gone today. Our year is still alive obviously with the quarter-final and that’s the challenge for us now.”
Would the return of injured players Michael Fennelly and JJ Delaney be significant?
“It may or may not be significant. We’ve never used being short any players ever as a reason for winning or losing. Everybody would like always to have their full panel available but that doesn’t come into it. We had 15 players ready to start and 15 players ready to come in and we always thought with our panel that not having players wasn’t a reason at all as far as we were concerned.”
They now ready themselves for the unfamiliar territory of the All-Ireland qualifiers, which they haven’t travelled since 2004. There are also important down-stream effects with a fourth successive Tipperary-Kilkenny All-Ireland unlikely unless Tipp lose next weekend’s Munster final. Galway for their part are likely to have a manageable route to a first date in September in seven years.
But it wasn’t a day for dwelling on logical projections.