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Galway reclaim an essential part of themselves in Croke Park

Both teams hungry for win after long wait but Galway’s desire was greater

Galway’s Johnny Coen lifts the Liam MacCarthy trophy after beating Waterford in the GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The Great Wait ends.

No hurling county has lived through the extremes of All-Ireland emotions as vividly as Galway and, after 29 years, they reclaimed some essential part of themselves in Croke Park.

Waterford, who share a kind of brotherhood of perseverance with Galway teams, couldn’t prevent the maroon men from closing in on an All-Ireland final which, they can admit now, they simply had to win.

On a hugely novel day for hurling, Galway and Waterford crowds generated an electrical storm of anticipation around the old stadium in the hours before this game. Both counties had recent, painful memories of attending All-Ireland finals. But the knowledge of how to actually win them belonged to old video tape and reminiscence, with Galway’s glory days intertwined with the flamboyant team of the 1980s while Waterford’s last victory was in 1959.

No matter what, there would be new champions; fresh ecstasy.

Waterford scored two first-half goals to keep the game tight and the Western crowd anxious but, in the last 10 minutes, Galway’s deep array of big, athletic marksmen transported the county to a place that had seemed beyond them on too many days. All of that ended here, with triumphs for both minors and seniors. The senior showpiece finished 0-26 to 2-17. Waterford were hugely courageous and gallant but simply met a stronger team.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Micheál Donoghue, the Clarinbridge man who has guided Galway to success in his second year as manager.

‘Huge ownership’

“The players took huge ownership themselves in the dressing room and showed a huge desire to finish this. One of the biggest strengths we got off each other is that we excluded everything outside our own circle. We were in a serious frame of mind coming up today and knew we were in with a serious shout.”

And it felt like the completion of something, after six previous losses over three decades in which generations of silky, talented hurlers came and went in a fog of frustration.

Too often, Galway teams were volatile in their brilliance. This team was simply steadily excellent and steadiness was the quality they needed.

The memory of the late Tony Keady, the Galway folk hero who died recently, and of the late Niall Donohoe, the former team-mate of the current side who died in 2013, was evoked by captain David Burke in a hugely emotive acceptance speech.

Galway captains may not grace the podium all that often but whenever they do stand up with the MacCarthy cup, word and deed seeps into the DNA of the maroon county – back, after everything, to its luminous best.