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Nicky English: Galway emerge from test of character as deserving champions

On an emotional day Micheál Donoghue’s team remained composed

Galway’s Joe Canning in action against Tommy Ryan of Waterford. Canning was flawless on the frees during his side’s win on Sunday in Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

An excellent and consistent season by Galway ended up with the All-Ireland. It was a deserved win and the way it happened wasn’t unpredictable but at times they made hard work of it. They had to prove they had the nerve to win it in the end and that was the only question mark over them after an anxious semi-final against Tipperary.

 That was tested because after a brilliant start, they conceded a poor goal to Kevin Moran, a calamitous goal to Kieran Bennett and nearly did it again at the start of the second half. Then they found themselves behind with 20 minutes to go and still were able to swing it back.

 Their defence tightened, their forwards started to win ball again and their subs made a significant impact, not just scoring – Niall Burke and Jason Flynn got two points each – but winning massively important ball.

 Burke came on, called a puck-out on himself, won the ball and a free and gave a huge lift to the team.

 Ultimately their power and range of scorers combined with a mental toughness down the stretch to hang in there and get back into the game was impressive. They didn’t do it without mistakes but they were worthy winners and have proved themselves a serious team, well managed by Micheál Donoghue. That’s the entire package we’ve seen from them this year.

 They looked assured and composed in all of their matches with the exception of the semi-final against Tipp and whereas there was the odd hint of that in the final they were able to regain composure when they needed to, which is a tribute to management.

 They started superbly, using the ball well and taking Tadhg de Búrca out of the match with smart use of ball and long-range scores. David Burke was transformed from the hesitant performance in the semi-final and for a while they were scoring at will.

 The goals rocked them and really tested their resolve.

Battering ram

Trying to use Johnny Glynn as a battering ram didn’t work for them. After the second goal hit them they went away from the opening tactics of smart movement and clever use of the ball and started to lorry the ball in on top of Glynn, who fought manfully although outnumbered but the ball wasn’t sticking.

 As a result Galway’s play in the second quarter was static and one-dimensional.

 Taking Glynn off wasn’t so much a change of personnel as a reversion to the tactics that had worked so well earlier. Burke and Flynn came on and offered movement, created space and David Burke popped up on the Cusack Stand side for a point. They had more freedom as a result of the changes.

 The patterns they had created up front all year were restored and where Cathal Mannion had drifted out and Glynn had been isolated, Niall Burke and Flynn pushed up and helped recreate the dynamic of six strong, ball-winning forwards moving around the attack.

 Maybe Waterford were tiring because Galway were immensely strong and in great shape. That attrition had to have an effect and you could see it with Waterford’s more influential players. Jamie Barron wasn’t as obvious and the fall-off was particularly noticeable with Kevin Moran, who had been outstanding.

 He missed a crucial point to put Waterford two ahead and I suspect that was down to fatigue. Either way, it was a significant miss and Galway finished far the stronger.

 Their defence needed to step up as well. They were slow to the break at times even when outnumbering the Waterford attackers but just as against Tipperary when they really drove into the opposition in the final 10 minutes, they raised their game when it really mattered.

 Looking at the contribution of Joe Canning versus the contribution of Austin Gleeson in the pocket position of the team’s respective conductors, you could see the hard yards that Canning has had to make in defeat over the years standing to him. He was flawless on the frees, pointed a line ball from an area where Gleeson missed a similar opportunity.


 The overall orchestration of using the ball well and doing what needed to be done was in contrast to a game that never really ran for Gleeson. I’m not sure why he was taking that free from his own half at the end when he was needed in the square with Maurice Shanahan to try and make something happen or win a penalty or something.

 I know only too well what that’s like for someone in a first All-Ireland final so he has my sympathies. It’s a harsh lesson but can be an invaluable one.

 Reflecting on that experience for me in the 1988 final called to mind the hurler who was man of the match that day, the late Tony Keady. I believe the feelings released by his untimely death were also a powerful driving force for Galway on such an emotional day.

 In a way it was just like the 1980s because I believe that Galway found their response from the experience of losing two All-Ireland finals. There comes a stage when you wonder will you ever win the Liam MacCarthy. I think they dealt with that going down the stretch this year.

 They are well deserving champions and have looked the part since the championship started.