Backstreet brawl in Salthill leaves Galway wondering what happened

Wexford finish the stronger and are unlucky again to share the points

Galway 0-16 Wexford 0-16

There are days when hurling can look poor against its own backdrop. After the panoramic stuff of recent weeks, here was a backstreet brawl, the metal litter bins clattering in an ugly din. Maybe the game was just further proof that it’s foolhardy to try and play hurling so close to the beach. And yet for all the faults and mistakes, everyone was riveted by the time we reached endgame here.

As this second round Leinster championship game became pared down into a who-will-blink-first game of wills and nerve, passes went astray, possession was spilled, bodies hit the grass and the wide count spiralled, the crowd from both counties groaned aloud and became jumpy. But nobody could take their eyes of it.

Wexford, facing into the absurd Salthill breeze in the first half, had fallen into a hole and contributed to its depth by racking up 10 demoralising wides: they had already fired five blanks by the time Lee Chin took responsibility for the 22nd-minute free which opened their scoring.


They could have quietly told themselves midway through the second half that this was not their ground, not their venue, not their opposition: no Wexford side has beaten Galway since they entered the Leinster championship a decade ago.

But when he sat exhausted in the ante-room after posing for photos, it was the no-quit attitude that made Davy Fitzgerald’s eyes dance with optimism. After that faltering start, he saw his team outscore Galway 0-16 to 0-10 in the match. He saw that Jason Flynn’s 68th-minute point, the last Galway would score, had looked wide from many angles and would come under close scrutiny on the Sunday night television show.

He saw, too, that Cathal Dunbar was through one-on-one with Colm Callanan in the 74th minute after a brilliant catch and flick on from the workaholic Jack O’Connor. Dunbar had already contributed 0-2 from open play and, in the spirit of Wexford’s bold revival, struck low for Galway’s goal. As he wound up, Galway’s summer sort of flickered and went blurry in the eyes and minds of team and supporters alike. Fortunately, Callanan kept his eyes on the ball and made a solid save. A goalmouth scramble and a free out: that was ball game right there.

A week ago, Wexford were denied a win through a late, late Dublin goal. Here, they came desperately close also. But for tiny margins, they could be riding high right now.

Galway left with more to think about. This has not been a convincing May for the 2017 All-Ireland champions. They, too, struggled to master the swirling sea breeze rolling downfield. The game itself never flowed for any sustained passage and became instead a broken series of snatched points, terrific defensive covering and, at other stages, a comedy of errors that neither manager found remotely funny.

It was Micheál Donoghue’s concerns that became more pronounced at the afternoon wore on – 0-10 to 0-4 was an uneasy advantage with which to face into breeze. As it was, Wexford didn’t begin to eat into it until the 50th minute. But once Rory O’Connor delivered a bullet of a point from deep midfield, something stirred within the visitors and they suddenly began to dominate the middle sector.

Callanan couldn’t find any obvious target with his restarts, with Johnny Glynn, newly introduced, attracting a blanket of purple and yellow. Chin, Diarmuid O’Keefe and Kevin Foley fronted a dominant phase of play in which Wexford reeled off 0-7 without reply. For a full 17 minutes, Galway did not score and in the 63rd minute Shaun Murphy, the pacy Oulart wing back ghosted along Galway’s left and gave the visitors their first lead. Salthill fell quiet.

All of this happened after Davy Fitzgerald was banished from the sideline by referee Johnny Murphy following a spirited expression of unhappiness to the umpire close to him on the sideline.

“So what you are saying is there was no harm I was sent to the stand,” Fitzgerald said with a laugh when this was put to him.

“Well maybe we needed something a small bit to get us going. So yeah they did.”

All of the momentum was with Wexford down the stretch. Galway ran the changes: John Hanbury was sent in and was excellent in a full-back line that was shaken after Daithí Burke picked up a yellow card for fouling Paul Morris. But the one figure on everyone’s mind was unavailable: here was an explicit example of the influence and importance of Joe Canning as the leader of this generation of Galway players.

“With 10 minutes to go, I’d have taken a draw,” admitted Donoghue. “It was just very hard to play out there. I thought we started well in the first half. Maybe our scoring efficiency was down. I thought we should have been more up at half-time.

“We know Wexford are a top-quality team and that they were going to come back. They duly did. Huge credit to our boys. With 10 minutes to go, that match was slipping from us. They showed huge character to stay in the game and get a result.”

Turloughmore’s Seán Loftus, a late inclusion to the Galway defence, was impressively neat and busy through the general untidiness, Conor Whelan put in a hugely forceful hour and Flynn was a big target man and rescued Galway with a crucial 65 and that late controversial point.

But Galway’s summer is on slightly thin ice now as they have a fortnight to steel themselves for an afternoon in Nowlan Park and a closing game away to Mattie Kenny’s Dublin. It’s all up for grabs.

GALWAY: 1 C Callanan; 5 P Mannion, 3 D Burke, 4 A Harte; 18 S Loftus, 6 G McInerney, 24 J Cooney; 8 J Coen, 9 D Burke (0-1); 10 C Mannion (0-1), 11 N Burke (0-4, three frees, one 65), 12 J Flynn (0-6, three frees, one 65), 14 C Cooney (0-1), 13 C Whelan (0-3), 15 B Concannon.

Subs: 25 J Glynn for 11 N Burke (42 mins), 7 J Hussey for 8 J Coen (51), 21 J Hanbury for 24 J Cooney (60), 23 D Glennon for 15 B Concannon (66).

WEXFORD: 1 M Fanning; 2 D Reck, 3 L Ryan, 4 S Donohue; 5 P Foley, 6 M O'Hanlon, 7 S Murphy (0-1); 11 A Nolan (0-1), 9 D O'Keeffe (0-1); 10 L Chin (0-7, six frees), 14 R O'Connor (0-1), 8 K Foley; 15 L Óg McGovern (0-2), 22 C Dunbar (0-2), 13 C McDonald (0-1).

Subs: 21 P Morris for 11 A Nolan , 12 J O'Connor for 5 P Foley (both 49 mins).

Referee: J Murphy (Limerick).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times