Galway blow summer wide open


GAELIC GAMES:WELL NOW. Turns out the championship isn’t a one-model catwalk after all. Galway detonated it from the inside yesterday with an afternoon of rattle and hum in front of 22,171 paying guests in Croke Park. Write that number down and store it somewhere – chances are an awful lot more will claim to have been here.

Actually, on second thought, don’t bother. A victory such as this deserves to pass into tall-tale lore.

For the truth of it, no need to drill any deeper than the scoreboard. Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11.

A first ever Leinster title heading west of the Shannon, the perennial champions given the sort of dressing down they’ve made a speciality of administering themselves. Out-hurled. Out-fought. Wiped out. Those are the words Brian Cody chose to wrap around the day.

For Galway, this felt like something more than just another stripy buck to hang on the wall. They’ve made a habit of catching Kilkenny down the years – or at least more of a habit than most counties have managed – but neither 2001 nor ’05 finished with Liam MacCarthy accompanying them home. Nobody’s saying it will this year either, but the championship snow-globe got its most thorough shaking in years here yesterday and where Galway fall will keep us all watching as the summer settles.

The county’s reputation as the feckless teenager of the championship who can’t be trusted to win or, for that matter, to lose when they’re supposed to, has been stubbornly-earned. They played here from the beginning like men minded to shake it off.

Kilkenny must have felt like men who’d walked out their front door in the morning only to be met with a wrecking ball swinging in their direction. There wasn’t time to duck, there wasn’t time to think.

Like Mike Tyson says, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.

A few facts will give a flavour of the helter-skelter opening.

Galway had 1-6 on the board before Kilkenny scored a point. Kilkenny didn’t have a shot at goal from play until the 26th minute, by which time they trailed 2-8 to 0-1.

The sport’s greatest team didn’t score from play until Richie Power planted one over on 31 minutes. Galway replied with a score from Joe Canning, supplied to him by a second errant Tommy Walsh sideline cut inside two minutes. It put Galway 16 points ahead.

Canning was princely yesterday, his every touch a reminder that, for all the ferocity, this is a subtle game. His catch and finish for Galway’s first goal left Jackie Tyrrell looking like he was trying to bounce on quicksand and he spent the rest of the day moving in and out and around, daring Kilkenny to catch him. They couldn’t.

But you don’t go after Jaws with a single harpoon. The Galway attack was a spinning disco ball at times, each constituent part shimmering with a different kind of light. David Burke scored one of the points of this or any other championship as a direct answer to Richie Hogan’s second-half goal, but did plenty more besides. Cyril Donnellan, Niall Burke and Damien Hayes were streaks across the sky as well. Kilkenny have never looked more discombobulated under Cody.

“They obviously got on top of the game very, very early,” he said. “And they were by far the better team and that’s the way it works: the better team always wins on the day. Nobody has a monopoly on anything in sport – certainly, we never considered we had. They played with a great intensity, with a great everything about their game. They dominated.”

For Galway, it’s a matter of backing this up now. Their ultra-serious management team have earned a tip of the hat from everybody in the sport, but they’ve also been involved in Galway hurling for far too long to see it as anything other than a start.

They’ve seen starts before, but nowhere near as often as they’ve seen ends. Bitter ones, mostly.

“It’s no use winning today unless we get consistency,” said Anthony Cunningham. “We’ve reminded everyone here we’ve always had great days here in semi-finals and whatever and then failed to turn up.

“We do need consistency and that’s the big challenge for us, for our players and our management and we’ll be looking to put that record straight. It’s a big message we’ll have for the next four or five weeks. That’ll be our new mantra for the next few weeks.”

For the rest of us, a summer that looked like a single, simple thread has found itself in knots all of a sudden.

The untangling will be a sight to see.

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