Summer finally serves up an epic to savour

An abrasive and elusive Galway side bounce their way to a stunning victory over Tipperary

Oh hurling, how could we doubt you? We worthless curs, we ignorant daws. We’ve spent the summer grumbling at the lack of a decent game and instead of fobbing us off with something mildly presentable, Galway and Tipperary lifted the cloche and served up an epic.

A crowd of 58,495 saw Anthony Cunningham’s side, abrasive and elusive in equal measure, bounce their way to a stunning 0-26 to 3-16 victory. Truly, we are not worthy.

The end was deathless and erratic, entirely in keeping with what had gone before. Only a fantasist would magic up Galway's match-winner in the shape of a 22-year-old substitute playing his first ever championship match. Shane Moloney hadn't made Galway's league panel back in the spring because Cunningham deemed him not fit enough. He only got a toe back in the door to make up numbers for a challenge match against Wexford.

Here, he came off the bench with a minute left of the 70 and managed to get on the ball in space to shoot not once but twice. The first one, he made an almighty mess of, skittering a loose effort out towards the corner flag for Tipp goalkeeper Darren Gleeson to pick up at his ease.


Bedlam begins

But for the second, he scudded out on to a gorgeous 70-yard pass from

Joe Canning

, rounded the unfortunate Conor O’Brien whose footing betrayed him at just the wrong moment, and nailed Galway’s 26th point with 10 seconds left on the clock. Bedlam in the big house.

“It’s huge,” smiled Cunningham afterwards. “It’s worth two or three years of development work. You can work in the gym and in the winter and summer, but you don’t get that experience until you’re out there and it’s a draw match going into injury-time and you have to get the last ball to win it.”

Had Galway not found the spare point to win it in the end, we’d have walked out of the place shaking our heads at the senseless way they’d left it behind them. They were the better side here but kept Tipp in the game by leaving poor Pádraig Mannion on a rampant Seamie Callanan long after it was humane to do so.

The Tipp full-forward had 3-8 against his name by the time Galway finally made a switch, 3-4 of it from play. Outside of him, the rest of the Munster champions could only muster a paltry seven points between them. On a day when their usually iridescent attack was dulled for once, Callanan was their only route to goal and virtually the sole threat to Galway’s passage to an All-Ireland final.

He had a goal on the board inside 39 seconds. He ended with three but we’ll only describe the one, since they were all the same. High ball in, Callanan left alone with rookie defender Mannion at the edge of the square. Catch, turn, shot, goal. Lather, rinse, repeat in the 40th minute and the 53rd.

But though Tipp's ace was strong, it was just one card and in the face of Galway's array of kings, it could only carry so much weight. With Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn to the fore, Galway inched their way back to lead at the break. After Callanan's second goal, they scored the next two points within a minute; after his third, they scored the next four.

Nip and tuck, tuck and nip. Bonner Maher and Bubbles O’Dwyer had goal chances but hit them weakly and Colm Callanan saved. Lar Corbett and Seamie Callanan both connected better with theirs – Callanan’s a late penalty – but the Galway goalkeeper was equal to them too.

Canning had a half-blocked shot batted away by Gleeson at the other end. Everywhere you looked, drama was bubbling.

Welcome cheers

Snapshots. Noel McGrath came in off the bench and the whole stadium – maroon jerseys as well as blue – rose to cheer him on to the pitch. When he snagged the point that looked the winner, we all got lumps in our throats.

Cathal Mannion speared a point off a Johnny Glynn hook, Flynn whipped over another to equalise. We presumed we were headed for a replay until Moloney brought Tipp's year to an abrupt end.

And with it, the managerial reign of Eamon O’Shea. He was always leaving whenever the year was done but this was earlier than he or anybody had imagined.

“In one sense I feel emotional, obviously losing is huge,” he said. “But it’s theirs, it’s the players’ game. Me leaving is only a footnote. It will be only a footnote. What’s really important is that we continue and we push and we try to go on and be better.

“It’s about for them moving on and trying to be better. That’s what high-level sport is. It’s a beautiful thing but it’s a brutal thing and it’s both at the same time. That’s the essence of what happened today.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times