Central axis at back could swing things back in Galway’s favour

List of great players that have played at 3 and 6 over the years have yet to see glory days return to the mid west

Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny gets by Galway full back Kevin Hynes and centre back Tony Ó Regan during the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Hurling final at Croke Park, which was won by Kilkenny after a replay. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny gets by Galway full back Kevin Hynes and centre back Tony Ó Regan during the 2012 All-Ireland Senior Hurling final at Croke Park, which was won by Kilkenny after a replay. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

 

When Galway last ruled the hurling landscape in 1987 and 1988, there were two immutable truths. Conor Hayes would play full back. Tony Keady would play centre back. They formed a rock steady column in a defence that touched on celebrity status. This is what happened next.

1989: All-Ireland semi-final Tipperary 1-17 Galway 2-11. 3 Conor Hayes. 6 Seán Treacy.

In what was one of the most bitter championship encounters ever, Keady, the reigning hurler of the year, was absent following a complaint by that he had played illegally in New York. Keady would say afterwards that Seán Treacy, who came into the team, probably played better than he could have on the day. Galway lost after a rancorous 70 minutes. And Tipperary went on to complete their first All-Ireland since 1971. Treacy finished the year with an All-Star.

1990: All-Ireland final Cork 5-15 Galway 2-21 3 Seán Treacy 6 Tony Keady

Galway’s qualified for a fifth final in six years with a comfortable win over Offaly. The defence was settled but they were stung by two goals in 90 seconds by John Fitzgibbon as Cork overhauled a seven-point second-half deficit. Treacy was in and out of the panel in the mid 1980s and spent some time in America but was desperately unlucky to come to prominence just after Galway’s double success. Conor Hayes and his gold helmet were listed among the substitutes that afternoon: his retirement thereafter marked the end of an era.

1991: All-Ireland semi-final Tipperary 3-13 Galway 1-9 3 Peter Finnerty. 6 Tony Keady

“There are a lot of new comers on the team and everyone will be pushing for a position,” Treacy remarked in an interview with Hogan Stand that spring. Treacy was Galway’s only All-Star that year.

Finnerty was such an ebullient, dashing figure that it was easy to imagine him slotting into any role comfortably. But in his essence he was more suited to the freedom afforded by wing back than as a mind the house number three. A turbulent opening 20 minutes in the company of Cormac Bonnar led to the hasty switch of Treacy from corner to fullback. Finnerty had a more comfortable time on Pat Fox thereafter but Galway couldn’t summon the old fury for the Premier county. Tipp went on to win another All-Ireland.

1992: All-Ireland semi-final Kilkenny 2-13 Galway 1-12 3 Seán Treacy. 6 Michael Coleman

Pat Malone, Galway’s midfielder, was injured after an accidental collision, necessitating moving Michael Coleman to midfield. Keady came in as a substitute after 39 minutes in what proved to be a Croke Park farewell. The 1988 hurler of the year finished with the county aged just 29. The build-up to this match was clouded by Finnerty’s long struggle to recover from a cruciate ligament injury which denied him a chance to play in this match.

1993: All-Ireland final Kilkenny 2-17 Galway 1-15 3 Seán Treacy. 6 Gerry McInerney

Jarlath Cloonan had taken over as manager and was beginning to build a new defence. But had two of his reliable installed as lieutenants. Galway played well without ever hitting stride and, in losing, the stellar performance of Pádraig Kelly, their young wing back from Sarsfields, was the one consolation of an All-Ireland day that Galway might have won.

“I can’t remember much of it,” he said afterwards. “We wasted a lot and Kilkenny didn’t and that stood to them. In the end they did what they had to do. I’m not despondent.”

1994: All-Ireland semi-final Offaly 2-13 Galway 1-10 3 Paul Cooney. 6 Gerry McInerney

A fresh face at full back and Gerry McInerney again asked to square the half-back line. As it turned out, they were meeting a great Offaly team in the making. This was the tidy – if slightly ageist – synopsis of Galway’s defence by Paddy Downey of The Irish Times: “Paul Cooney played quite soundly at full back for quite a long time while Tom Helebert was adequate in the right corner. The half-back line ran into trouble at an early stage however. The centre half, Gerry McInerney, started with a flourish but as time went on he was beaten by John Troy, whose intelligent ground striking was a telling feature in his team’s success. On McInerney’s left, Peter Finnerty displayed much of his old skill but was sadly lacking in keeping pace with Joe Dooley – who is no youngster either.

1995:All-Ireland semi-final Clare 3-12 Galway 1-13 3 Seán Treacy. 6 Brendan Keogh

Athenry’s Brendan Keogh was part of Brian Feeney’s generation and flourished as a half forward but this combination did not work for Galway. Nigel Shaughnessy moved into number six and impressed as Galway once again struggled to find a full back/centre back combination.

1996: All-Ireland semi-final Wexford 2-13 Galway 3-7 3 Brian Feeney. 6 Nigel Shaughnessy

Not the tallest full back ever but Brian Feeney, the county’s All-Ireland winning under-21 captain in 1991 and would captain for Athenry to All-Ireland success in 1997, was a born leader gave little joy to Gary Laffan this afternoon. His only struggle was when Billy Byrne came in with 10 minutes to go to score a crucial goal – which became the theme of the summer. Shaughnessy held Martin Storey to 0-3, a good return given the Oulart man’s form that year. It was a game that Mattie Murphy’s team might have won but again, they were caught by a team on an express train to success.

1997: All-Ireland quarter-final Kilkenny 4-15 Galway 3-16 3 Willie Burke. 6 Cathal Moore

Another year, another brand new partnership. Cyril Farrell was back in charge and at half-time, it seemed like the good old days were back. But the Cats overhauled a nine-point half-time deficit and afterwards the feeling was that Galway blew an unassailable advantage. DJ Carey went ballistic for 2-8 in a classic shootout in Thurles. It was a wounding defeat.

1998: All-Ireland quarter-final Waterford 1-20 Galway 1-10 3 Liam Hodgins. 6 Vinny Maher

Ten years out from Galway’s last All-Ireland win and a growing sense that maroon hurling had lost its way. At underage, the success was dazzling. Hodgins won a minor medal in 1994 with Galway and captained the successful under-21 team two years later against Wexford. The central axis looked appealing: young and bred with success. But thrown in cold against a Waterford side on the beginning of a long march, Galway never got going. The summer was over by July 26th, a date that was auspicious because it marked Cyril Farrell’s last time in charge of a Galway senior team.

1999: All-Ireland quarter-final Clare 3-15 Galway 2-18 Replay: Clare 3-18 Galway 2-14 3 Brian Feeney 6 Cathal Moore

Mattie Murphy’s turn again and a memorable joust in Croke Park ended with a replay defeat. Galway found a strong full back and centre back partnership which would remain stable the following summer.

2000: All-Ireland semi-final Kilkenny 2-19 Galway 0-17 3 Brian Feeney. 6 Cathal Moore

A day of no luck for Galway as both Feeney and Moore kept shackles on DJ Carey and John Power only to see Denis Byrne send 0-8, five from play, sailing over from the wing. Galway missed two goal chances at the other end and that was enough to give Kilkenny a third chance at a title. Murphy saw some hope in that. “Kilkenny came back after being beaten in two finals. How hard can it be, like?”

2001: All-Ireland final Tipperary 2-18 Galway 2-15 3 Michael Healy. 6 Liam Hodgins

In the absence of Feeney, Galway’s Noel Lane gave Sarsfields’ Michael Healy the number three jersey as Galway began a convincing summer drive to that year’s final. The final score suggests a closer match than it was. Galway were always chasing. Liam Hodgins finished the year with an All Star award.

2002 All-Ireland quarter-final Clare 1-15 Galway 0-17 3 Diarmuid Cloonan. 6 Liam Hodgins

The perpetual problem for Galway was that so many players seemed to offer the solution. Diarmuid Cloonan excelled as a teenager in Athenry and proved himself to be a solid number three as Galway were edged out in another tense encounter with Clare. His career was interrupted by injury and he was suspended for the 2005 championship, when Galway would push hard.

2003: All-Ireland qualifiers Galway 1-17 Tipperary 1-18 3 Liam Hodgins 6 Tony Óg Regan

The qualifying system was devised to give counties like Galway some kind of runway into the serious games of summer. They hosted this match in Salthill with the same outcome. Tony Óg Regan was victim of his versatility that he could be used at full back, centre back or on the wing and was parachuted in to fill holes as required in subsequent seasons.

2004: All-Ireland qualifiers Kilkenny 4-20 Galway 1-10 3 Diarmuid Cloonan. 6 David Hayes

In the qualifying rounds, Galway went for Cloonan at full back and David Collins at number six. When they met a vengeful Kilkenny side, smarting from a shock Leinster final defeat by Wexford, the pairing was Cloonan and David Hayes. The Athenry man held DJ Carey scoreless but Henry Shefflin, wearing 11, finished with 2-11 including eight frees as Galway were overwhelmed in all sectors.

2005: All-Ireland final Cork 1-21 Galway 1-16 3 Tony Óg Regan. 6 Shane Kavanagh

It was easily Galway’s most convincing season since their ’88 title. Manager Conor Hayes went with Shane Kavanagh at 3 and Derek Hardiman at 6 as Galway cruised through their qualifying rounds against Laois, Antrim and Limerick before edging out Tipperary in the quarter-final.

The 5-18 to 4-18 win over Kilkenny in the semi-final still smoulders in the memory for its sheer madness. Galway’s full-back line that day was: 6 S Kavanagh, 4 O Canning, 2 Damien Joyce. Niall Healy scored a hat-trick. For the final, Regan was named at 3 and Kavanagh at 6. Derek Hardiman, who made that year’s All Star team with fellow defender Canning, wore number 5.

2006: All-Ireland qualifiers Kilkenny 2-22 Galway 3-14 3 Tony Óg Regan 6 Shane Kavanagh

Losing their critical qualifying round tie against Waterford pitched Galway in cold against Kilkenny who hadn’t forgotten or forgiven them the previous year. They faced the old problem of trying to get up to the pace of the championship. “If we were playing in Leinster we would probably have played three or four games against Kilkenny,” said Conor Hayes.

2007: June 14th: All-Ireland qualifiers Clare 2-10 Galway 0-14 19 Tony Og Regan. 6 John Lee

July 28th: All-Ireland quarter-final Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 1-18 3 Ger Mahon. 6 John Lee

The beginning of the Loughnane era brought Galway straight into the bear pit of Cusack Park as Loughnane faced his former family in the qualifying rounds.

“The lads were all really up for it,” he said after that defeat. “You can’t question the dedication. But there is something seriously wrong when the players in Galway cannot produce the goods in the real intensity of a game in the championship. It is my job to get that going.”

But they still qualified as runner-up in their round robin group and their quarter-final lacked nothing for spirit but Kilkenny finished them with a late scoring burst. The performance of John Lee at 6 was one of the brightest spots of the season for Galway.

2008: All-Ireland qualifiers Cork 0-23 Galway 2-15 3 Damian Joyce 6 John Lee

A day upon so much hinged. Would Galway have lost had Donal Óg Cusack not been sent off? It is academic but the dismissal of their goalkeeper provoked an insurgent second half by Cork. It was the day when Joe Canning’s illustrious gifts became apparent to a national summer audience. The Portumna man hit 2-12 in a stunning exhibition. Lee, Galway minor captain in 2004, again played at number six while Damian Joyce, the tidy and consistent Cappataggle defender, was on the square.

2009 All-Ireland qualifiers Waterford 1-16 Galway 0-18 3 Eugene McEntee 6 John Lee

Galway were re-imagined as a Leinster county and immediately met Kilkenny. Shane Kavanagh was back at number three for most of the campaign as the Tribesmen defeated Cork but was injured when Galway met Waterford at their most unreasonable. Eugene McEntee, a stalwart defender for Portumna, was drafted in and looked comfortable as Galway controlled a so-so game for an hour. Then, Davy Fitzgerald sent Dan Shanahan into the fray and all hell broke loose. Two quick goals and a point from John Mullane and Galway were gone.

2010: All-Ireland quarter-final Tipperary 3-17 Galway 3-16 3 Shane Kavanagh 6 Tony Óg Regan

Both players featured regularly in debates as to who Galway’s resident full back should be. In 05/06 the same players wore the others’ jersey. This combination clicked as Galway qualified for the Leinster final, losing to Kilkenny and then squeezed out in a thunderous contest by eventual the All-Ireland winners.

2011: All-Ireland qualifiers Waterford 2-23 Galway 2-13 3 Shane Kavanagh 6 Tony Óg Regan

Kavanagh and Regan had become Galway’s most consistent partnership since the Hayes/Keady era but the team failed to fire in this qualifier match in Thurles.

2012: All-Ireland final replay Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11 3 Kevin Hynes 6 Tony Óg Regan

The loss of Kavanagh to a long-term injury threatened to break the stability of the defence but Kevin Hynes stepped in for a memorable year which included a Leinster final win over Kilkenny and a drawn final against the same opposition. The veil trembled that day: Galway came close enough to winning to feel it. Henry Shefflin had different ideas though.

2013: July 7th: Leinster final Dublin 2-25 Galway 2-13 3 Kevin Hynes 6 Shane Kavanagh.

July 28th: All-Ireland quarter-final Clare 1-23 Galway 2-14 3 Fergal Moore 6 Jason Grealish

Galway rung the changes but couldn’t recapture anything of the previous summer’s smoothness or menace.

2014: All-Ireland qualifier Tipperary 3-25 Galway 4-13 3 Ronan Burke 6 Dáithí Burke

Turloughmore’s Ronan Burke and Dáithí Burke were the partnership in a season during which Galway brought Kilkenny to a replay in the Leinster championship. Galway led Tipp by 4-12 to 1-15 the previous year in Semple Stadium after 51 minutes. Then the sky fell in on Galway hurling over a shocking closing 20 minutes which seemed to leave them back at the drawing board.

2015: All-Ireland quarter-final Galway v Cork

The experiment to transform Iarla Tannian into a number six began in the league last year and the forceful Ardrahan man caught the eye in the early rounds, with Anthony Daly describing him as “unbeatable” on a fruitless day for Dublin in Salthill. He had formed the central unit with Ronan Burke. Afterwards, Cunningham acknowledged that 3 and 6 “have been positions that Galway have struggled in over the past few years”.

Dáithí Burke broke his hand in the lead-in to this year’s championship, disrupting his preparation but has now recovered. Galway’s latest central defensive unit for tomorrow’s do-or-die clash against Cork is X and Y.

* This article was amended on August 10th to correct a number of factual errors

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