Canning's class gives Galway the edge


NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION ONE SEMI-FINAL Galway 2-22 Cork 0-24:AT HALF-TIME, Galway looked as if they were going to roar into their first national final under Ger Loughnane and give Cork a schooling in the process but by the end, they found themselves surviving a hell-for-leather finale.

After a lukewarm season of spring hurling, this match shimmered with the promise of hotter days ahead. It also marked the official beginning of Joe Canning's long-anticipated senior career with Galway and the laid-back Portumna prodigy did not disappoint those who witnessed the occasion.

Canning struck four points - the difference between the teams at full-time - including the masterstroke in his repertoire, a sideline cut flighted with such velocity that it made nonsense of the considerable breeze he faced into.

That score was a beauty but it sparked a response of seven unanswered points from Cork that bore the hallmarks of their striking from distance, their efficient running game and their mental resolve. The wind was a factor and with marksmen like John Gardiner and Tom Kenny on board, they were always likely to eat into Galway's 2-15 to 0-7 interval lead.

It must have been a mildly shocking opening half for Cork, who responded well to Galway's eagerness for a good hard game before finding themselves reeling after Iarla Tannian's 24th-minute goal. The match programmes had advertised a billing that would pair Canning against Diarmuid O'Sullivan. But Canning took his place in the left corner to be shadowed by Shane O'Neill and he roamed around the field after that.

O'Sullivan kept company with Tannian and for all the pyrotechnics created by the Galway new lad, this was an engrossing battle. If the redoubtable Cloyne man is the Rock, the Tannian must be classed as some kind of meteorite for there were moments when his bulk made the experienced Cork number three disappear entirely.

Also, Tannian took O'Sullivan for a tour of the Gaelic Grounds and the ample space in front of Donal Óg Cusack's goal enabled the lightning Galway attackers like Niall Healy and Damien Hayes to start banging over the points.

Galway played some marvellous hurling over that half hour and after Tannian's goal, they put on a bit of a show. Canning drilled a shot first-time from the ground and then the lively Ger Farragher went low with a 20-metre free and pushed Galway into a 2-11 to 0-7 lead after 30 minutes. It was a bold assault on a team with Cork's defensive reputation and it was no surprise to see Ronan Curran among the half-time substitutes.

The trademark run-and-gun points by Kenny signalled Cork had taken enough of the impudence. Páidí O'Sullivan had a fine game at corner forward and he helped Cork haul themselves back into contention, with half-time substitute Pat Cronin picking up a smart four points from play during their resurgence. Diarmuid O'Sullivan picked up a yellow card for lightly smacking the stubborn Tannian with his hurley and the two big men continued to clatter into each other relentlessly, with O'Sullivan claiming one memorable catch on the run as he held off the Ardrahan man with his forearm.

Ben O'Connor drilled over the frees with his customary ease and when Cathal Naughton, who looked lively on precious little ball, pointed following a long free by Gardiner, Cork had reduced the deficit to just a goal. That alone was a statement, but they weren't quite finished: Pat Cronin saw that Ó hAilpín had crept forward before anyone else and flicked a hand-pass to the Na Piarsaigh man who was all alone and to the right of the Galway goal 15 metres out but James Skehill leaped high to save the Cork man's goal attempt.

Skehill, who had an excellent game, also repelled two dangerous 20-metre frees from Gardiner. But for those saves, Galway might have been heading back up the road full of self-doubt and slight embarrassment they could blow such an audacious half-time lead.

Perhaps they were coasting a little through that second half - the lead was still nine points going into the last 10 minutes - but when it became apparent that a nasty twist was on the cards, the Galway men did engineer a crucial point which was bravely finished by Eoin Lynch from a tight angle.

Canning had a part in that as well, just a neat little first touch pass to Niall Healy as the Cork defence rushed at him. That moment was one of many that highlighted just how smoothly he has fitted into this Galway attack and it was the subtle touches and the sheer physical bulk he brings which could struck one as the significant difference he will bring to the Galway attack this summer.

In the rain afterwards, he signed autographs until the last child had left the ground and seemed unfazed as he contemplated the first step on a career that has been the stuff of breathless talk. One day out and straight into a league final. "Yeah," he said with a grin. "It's a good auld way to end your first match."

GALWAY:J Skehill; C Dervan, T Regan, F Moore; A Cullinane (0-1), J Lee, S Kavanagh; K Hynes (0-1), R Murray (0-1); G Farragher (1-5, four frees), F Healy, N Healy (0-3); D Hayes (0-4), J Canning (0-4, one sideline), I Tannian (1-2). Subs: E Lynch (0-1) for R Murray (45 mins), D Forde for A Cullinane (60 mins), A Kerins for K Hynes (62 mins).

CORK:D Cusack; S O'Neill, S O'Sullivan, C O'Connor; J Gardiner (0-3), E Cadogan, S Ó hAilpin; T Kenny (0-3), K Hartnett; B O'Connor (0-8, six frees, one sideline), N McCarthy, L Desmond; P O'Sullivan (0-4), B Corry, C Naughton (0-2). Subs: P Cronin (0-4) for L Desmond (27 mins), J Deane for N McCarthy (half-time), R Curran for K Hartnett (half-time).

Referee:J Owens (Wexford).