Galway the gold standard in this year’s championship
Although Wexford competed with gusto, their range of options was never sufficient
Liam Ryan breaks Galway’s Niall Burke’s hurley during Sunday’s match in Croke Park. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
Galway 0-29 Wexford 1-17
Wexford have breathed huge life into the Leinster championship by mobilising their spirited support base and on Sunday they contributed to what was a record attendance for the provincial final: 60,032 flocking through the Croke Park turnstiles.
But there would be no salvation by faith alone. Although they competed with gusto, their range of options was never sufficient to exert real pressure on the league holders, who have now added a second Leinster to the inaugural title they won five years ago and advance menacingly on to a third successive All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since their Connacht days granted them access-all-areas to the last four.
They continue to shoot the lights out in terms of their point totals, now averaging 30 per match in this year’s championship. There is a zen-like patience about the team at this stage. Performances have been about sustaining high notes from start to finish rather than the grand opera of pillaging goals and surviving the subsequent comebacks.
The difference is embodied by Joe Canning who previously had to do most of the pillaging or else get blamed for the defeat. At this stage, though, he is the conductor rather than the soloist and although his conversion of the placed ball remains a feature – including on this occasion, one side-line cut – his gifts are more integrated into the team effort and by the end of the match he was back scrapping for ball in front of his own goal.
An aspect of his performance was getting outscored from play by his marker, Matthew O’Hanlon, but in the overall scheme of things Canning was a vital presence even if the team will probably be hoping for him to strike more of a balance between selflessly helping out and helping himself.
Wexford came with bravado and energy and for most of the first half they kept up the scoreboard and even twice led by two. But they weren’t getting out of sight. Galway’s forwards maintained the constant rhythm of scoring. Conor Cooney ended up with eight points, seven from play, and his namesake Joseph with five from play and some big catchers, including the one that set up an answering point after Wexford had flickered into life at the start of the final quarter with 1-2 in quick succession.
Conor Whelan, who had bagged 0-7 in the semi-final, was kept scoreless through the 70 minutes but he was a constant problem, sharing the two-man full-forward line with Conor Cooney and contesting everything sent in his direction. A conservative reckoning would give him an assist credit for five of the points between drawing fouls and otherwise setting up scores.
The escalation of the scoring drooped before half-time as both Conor McDonald and Lee Chin missed frees. So did Canning but he also converted two and Joseph Cooney scooped over a point and almost imperceptibly, Galway were three ahead at the break.
McDonald would suffer more frustration in the second half. Firstly, Hawk-Eye ruled wide a free that he had originally been awarded and then after Aidan Nolan was fouled for a penalty, he took it but hit it weakly and Colm Callanan comfortably pushed it out for a 65, which Chin converted.
The Wexford joint-captain found it difficult to emulate his semi-final heroics simply because Galway are so formidable in the air. According to the official Sure statistics they won the contested ball count 17-2 and that platform was evident in the third quarter, as their opponents faltered and the screw was turned.
The saved penalty could have levelled the match and pumped some belief into Wexford and Galway sensed their chance, dispatching seven points in eight minutes.
Galway’s defence was also in commanding form. Daithi Burke’s displays at full back have helped to lock the back six and in front of him Gearóid McInerney continued to provide a screening presence. With Shaun Murphy playing his usual role as Wexford sweeper, Aidan Harte was freed up to fulfil the same function for Galway and the result led to hard going for the challengers’ full forward line, for whom only Paul Morris registered more than a score from play.
They did strike to prevent the match disappearing altogether with a rallying point from Chin and then a goal engineered by Jack Guiney’s persistence in chasing a blocked shot, carrying the ball back along the end-line and placing Diarmuid O’Keeffe for a simple goal.
Galway just kept going and banged over the next five points to erase the 1-2 conceded. On the hour their supporters, a substantial but outnumbered presence, made their voices heard and it sounded the requiem for Wexford’s chances.
David Fitzgerald’s team will head to the All-Ireland quarter-final double bill, which is to open the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. They won’t feel inhibited but Galway move on to within two matches of closing the 29-year gap back to the county’s last All-Ireland. With every step of the way their credentials have looked more and more persuasive.
GALWAY: 1. Colm Callanan; 2. Adrian Tuohy, 3. Daithi Burke, 4. John Hanbury; 5. Pádraic Mannion (0-1), 6. Gearóid McInerney, 7. Aidan Harte; 8. J Coen, 9. David Burke (capt; 0-1);12. Joseph Cooney (0-5), 11. Joe Canning (0-10, eight frees, sideline, 65), 23. Jason Flynn; 13. Conor Whelan, 14. Conor Cooney (0-8, one free), 10. Niall Burke (0-2).
WEXFORD: 1. Mark Fanning; 4. James Breen, 2. Willie Devereux (0-1), 3. Liam Ryan, 5.Simon Donohoe, 6. Matthew O’Hanlon (joint-capt; 0-2), 7. Diarmuid O’Keeffe (1-1); 10. Jack O’Connor (0-1), 11. Lee Chin (0-3, two frees, 65); 13. Paul Morris (0-2), 9. Aidan Nolan, 12. Conor McDonald (0-6, four frees); 8. Shaun Murphy, 14. Jack Guiney, 15. Harry Kehoe
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)