'Stay chasing. Stay being honest'
Much like James Horan and Mayo, the Galway hurling management have spent the season emphasising the areas in which their players can improve. One of the least mentioned aspects of the drawn final was the September experience was new to the Galway sideline as well. One of their bravest – and toughest — decisions was to call Conor Cooney ashore after sending him on as a substitute.
“It was a very harsh decision to have to make because we are conscious of the impact on the player,” Tom Helebert says.
“But we just felt that Conor hadn’t got to the pace of the game quickly enough as an impact substitution. In the context of the game for 75 minutes, we had to make it and were prepared to make it. It can be hard sometimes because there is so much going on. The tendency is to watch the ball but you can’t do that. You have to watch the guys – what they are doing, how they are shaping up and how they are coping.
“If you see warning signs of a guy starting to leak or run out of juice, then you have to respond to that. But all those scenarios are considered long in advance. But we spoke about it and Conor is a very important part of our panel and has been good for us and is very much in our thinking for the next day.”
They have heard the various interpretations of the drawn final, including the theory that Galway will never have as good a chance to beat Kilkenny, and just don’t see it that way.
“Before the final, we were going to Croke Park and 82,000 people except those in Galway thought we were on a hiding to nothing trying to beat the reigning champions,” Helebert says. “That it was mission impossible to try and beat the reigning champions. But there were points that reinforced that what we are doing is right.
“Players look for stability, trust and reinforcement and that’s what we bring to the table. We have a game process that is broadly working and they understand it and are playing for it. So we are starting to tick boxes that are no longer things to worry about. You know: I am fit. I am hurling well within myself, I am comfortable within my environment. And then you move on to the next level: how do we compete?
“But critically for us – we saw in the relegation play-off against Dublin – we don’t quit. That has been a big, big thing for this group to get their heads around. Stay working; stay chasing; stay being honest.”
All of which the Galway team will have to do again tomorrow. The sense emanating from Kilkenny is of a team set upon righting what they feel was a collectively flat performance saved by the heroics of Shefflin.
“You should always expect anything from Kilkenny,” Cunningham says, “they can burn you from any corner with scores and with defending. For instance, Michael Fennelly, may have been disappointed with his performance and will thunder into the game tomorrow.
“So you can expect fireworks from Kilkenny and we will have to meet that.”
And he smiles when asked what he hopes Galway can bring to Kilkenny.
“Fireworks as well.”
It might just be a decent game.