Joe Canning: Galway’s road to glory now as tough as it comes

Final five seconds in Croke Park changes the whole narrative for the Tribesmen while Clare’s poor finishing cost them a coveted Munster title

Just think about this for a second. What if Galway had managed to defend Kilkenny’s last attack in the Leinster final?

All that needed to happen was for a Galway player to kill the ball when it was pinging around in the corner. Put it out for a sideline, give away a free, lie down on the ball, even concede a 65; anything that took the ball out of circulation would have deadened the chaos and given Galway the opportunity to get organised.

They were five seconds away from winning the Leinster final, having come from eight points down against Kilkenny, of all teams. What would people have been saying? That Galway were serious contenders for the All-Ireland. Everyone’s outlook about them and the rest of their season would have been completely different.

There were two sides to Galway’s performance. For a long time Galway had a reputation for having a soft underbelly. That perception was there when I started playing for Galway, I’m not afraid to say it.


When other teams went a few points up on Galway, they felt the game was over and Galway would fall asunder. That was the consensus. Kilkenny definitely would have felt that. Was there evidence to back up that opinion? No doubt about it.

I think that changed under Anthony Cunningham and Micheál Donoghue and we became harder to beat. And that’s the one thing that really encourages me about Galway this year, the way they’ve responded to falling behind in matches.

They were 12 points down against Dublin, they were six points down against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, eight points down last Sunday – they even conceded a couple of very early goals against Wexford.

It’s like they had periods where they zoned out of matches, but you still had the sense they could turn it around. It showed me that there was character in the team, and you can’t go anywhere without that.

The other side of last Sunday’s performance was, to my eyes, they’re still not playing as a team. There is too much individual stuff going on. Damien Joyce used to say to us, ‘Make the guy beside you look better than he is’. That’s the essence of team play, what sacrifices are you prepared to make for your team-mate?

Looking at the Leinster final, I saw players not tracking their men, or not sensing the danger and picking up somebody else’s man. They weren’t hunting in threes and fours, like a team should be if everybody was on the same page and knew what they were doing.

I would love to take the Galway forwards and centre fielders and put them living together in a house for a fortnight, just to get them playing as a unit. There’s not enough cohesion in that part of the field. It doesn’t look to me like they’re playing to a pattern.

At one stage in the game Jason Flynn was isolated in the Kilkenny half of the field and they were playing the ball up to him directly, instead of running the ball out of defence.

Kilkenny exploited big spaces at the heart of the Galway defence for their four goals and there is no future in that for Galway.

TJ Reid knew that Gearóid McInerney was going to follow him everywhere, so he drifted out of full-forward and took Gearóid with him. Whether TJ came to that decision himself or the Kilkenny management had worked it out, it was a really smart strategic move. In the space that TJ left behind, Kilkenny went to town.

In the broader picture, Galway have played 11 championship matches in Croke Park since we won the 2017 All-Ireland and with just one win – against Wexford in 2020 – and three draws. That’s a crazy record.

But Galway still came from eight points down, and they were still five seconds away from being Leinster champions, and straight into an All-Ireland semi-final. Now, they’ve given themselves an incredibly tough route to the final. I can’t see Tipperary losing to Offaly tomorrow, and they will be Galway’s next opponents. The winners of that will play Limerick. As tough as it comes.

If they had been clinical, they would have had two more goals in the first half – on top of the goal chance they took – and against a team like Limerick, three goal chances is a lot. You must take them

Clare will have spent the last few days thinking about the road ahead as well. Whatever about the free they should have got to draw the match at the end, they had enough chances to win the game and didn’t take them.

If they had been clinical, they would have had two more goals in the first half – on top of the goal chance they took – and against a team like Limerick, three goal chances is a lot. You must take them.

Ryan Taylor ignored a pass to Tony Kelly – who was in acres of space and through on goal if Taylor had seen him – but Taylor later played a good ball to Mark Rodgers for the other goal opportunity. I don’t think Rodgers could have done any more: he hit the ball hard and low and bounced it in front of Nickie Quaid, who I thought made a brilliant save.

Not enough was made of that on Sunday, he had to turn his hurl and bring it across his body and get the ball up and away. In the context of the match it was an absolutely crucial save.

I’ve heard people saying during the week that Clare will learn from last Sunday’s defeat, but there’s only so much learning you can do. What more do they need to know? Their finishing wasn’t good enough and they left their full back line exposed. John Conlon was dragged into no man’s land and that was a tactical victory for Limerick.

When David Reidy came storming into the game in the second half, Conlon didn’t push up on him, but he didn’t sit back covering the D either. He needed to do one thing or the other.

In the first half, Clare managed to put a reasonable amount of pressure on the ball going into Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan, but in the second half Gillane got some of the nicest ball he ever got. Cian Nolan at full-back was only part of the problem. Conor Cleary would have struggled too with the quality of ball that was going in.

The outcome for Clare is that they’ll probably be playing Dublin in the quarter-final and Dublin will relish that. For Clare, the exams keep coming. By now, they must be finished with learning.