'Stay chasing. Stay being honest'
The most pleasing thing for the Galway management was their young team had the composure to compete and play, writes KEITH DUGGAN
THE BROAD message from Kilkenny is they didn’t do themselves justice in the All-Ireland final but for Galway, that drawn match was a lesson of immense importance.
Kilkenny are seasoned practitioners in the rhythms and ceremonies of hurling’s special Sunday but for Galway, it was all blazingly new. And the most pleasing thing for Anthony Cunningham and the selectors was their young team proved they had the composure to compete and play through the occasion.
“The message I would pass on is that whoever takes the initiative and shows the most nerve will win,” Cunningham remarked as the build-up for tomorrow’s replay resumed in earnest.
“There are areas we can improve. Our forwards didn’t score as much in the second half as we would like.
“Our defence will have to be as good the next day – and we let them in for two chances in the last 10 minutes. We can ask questions about coping. Henry Shefflin orchestrated at centre forward and really pulled strings. If he produces a performance again like that, he will cause us problems.
“We had two or three glorious chances after half-time. And we kept saying: we have to show composure when those chances come up. Because we will have a run and Kilkenny will have a run and it is down to containing Kilkenny a bit more and being a bit more ruthless in front of goal.
“They have so much class – they can fire in a few goals and rattle over three or four points in a short period of time. There is never a bad Kilkenny player. We had a tremendous performance that last day from Paul Murphy, a young player coming through. Brian Hogan took the game by the scuff of the neck when he was maybe outplayed in the first half.”
It is fair to say that as meticulous as the Galway backroom team is, they had not planned in great detail for a draw. But it didn’t take them long to realise that they wanted to get back west as quickly as possible.
“I’d say as we were leaving the field, as you are walking off the pitch, you are thinking about 10 different things,” coach Mattie Kenny says, “ but that was something we decided very quickly.”
That plunged Cunningham into unexpected and slightly comical territory. As a member of Galway’s 1987 All-Ireland winning team, he was invited to Dublin for a Saturday evening banquet. The team were due to be honoured before Sunday’s game. Instead, his wife and children went to Dublin on Saturday and he stayed at home alone with the family dog for company.
“And to make matters worse, they were all staying on the Sunday night and we headed off home with the team. The dog was delighted to see me. He wasn’t planning on seeing me until Monday evening.”
And so Cunningham did what a lot of Galway hurling people did on the Sunday night: he watched the game.
“Well, part of it anyway. The following night we would have worked on it and the following few nights with Mattie when the players were resting, we went through it. So we figured out analysis and one-to-ones. It was no different than any other match. We did it after the Leinster final and after the Cork match.”