The best and worst of games for Galway
THE masters of disguise? Galway hurlers displayed so many different faces in the National Hurling League final yesterday, that deep under the Mackey Stand afterwards even manager Mattie Murphy was not quite sure which one was the most genuine.
"It was a bit like the good, the bad and the ugly," he conceded, amid a ruck of people in the Galway dressing room, which resembled a congested London tube station. "In the first half we took all the wrong options; in the second we finished with hurling as good as you would see anywhere."
Still, Galway are champions of the league and, even if the County Board official who manhandled the poor members of the press corps out of the victorious dressing room did not particularly like our prying eyes, the whole mood suggests that even better days lie ahead. What price the double?
The belief in the Galway camp is that it is very much on. "It will take a very good team to beat us in the All Ireland - and, at the moment, I don't think it is out there," said Murphy.
"I'm on the record of saying that if Joe Cooney is fit, we will win the All Ireland. Joe has put in an awful lot of, physical hard work over the past few months and he is exceptionally sharp now," added the team boss.
Yes, Cooney. The man whose goal broke Tipperary hearts, displaying all the cunning and lethal finishing of old. "After Nicky English's goal it looked bad for us. When the ball came to me I knew I had to go for a goal or nothing. I just hit it," said Cooney. And with the hurler's instinct, it found the net.
"It was fierce important that we won the League. We have been a long time away without winning anything. We never settled in the first half, there were a lot of nerves," said Cooney. "But it was a nice way to finish the match. We showed great skill and heart."
Joe Rabbitte supplied the opening for Cooney's late goal. He said: "I just threw it to him - we were lucky to get such a break so quickly after Nicky's goal."
"I never settled for a draw, even when that looked to be a good result for us. With Tipperary, you have to just keep going right to the end," said Rabbitte.
"This is one we have to build on. I have no doubt we will enter the championship as favourites, but that should not bother anyone. A lot of people now know what it takes to win a title."
Kevin Broderick, who scored the first Galway goal, added: "After all that training we just had to come away with something. It is a great feeling to win."
While Galway could savour success, Tipperary were once again confined to dealing with their own sorrow. Colm Bonnar said: "It was shattering the way it happened, we thought we had it won."
Team manager Fr Tom Fogarty was just as despondent, but put on a brave face: "The league is behind us now, now we have to focus on our Munster championship clash with Waterford."
Fogarty added: "I would not use our injuries as an excuse for defeat, but any team minus Pat Fox, Decian Ryan and Thomas Dunne from their forwards might be expected to struggle a bit. But it is no shame to finish a close second to a great Galway team such as this.
"The Joe Cooney goal was definitely the game's turning point," added Fogarty. "I thought Galway were struggling up to that, but the goal gave them a new lease of life."
The real crux for the Tipperary selectors, one suspects, is that just one of their forward division - John Leahy - scored a point. And that stark statistic must be extremely worrying for them.
For Galway, however, it was sweet revenge after their league defeat of two years ago, and, thanks to their position in Connacht, they have longer than most to savour a league title. After all, they now have a two month gap before needing to break competitive sweat again.
The words of Joe Rabbitte ring out loud and clear, however, to any potential rivals to the crown. "It is great to win the league," he said, "but we all know the Liam McCarthy Cup is all that really matters."
And, as the history books show, when Galway ended their last barren spell with a dramatic league win over Clare in 1987 they went on to win back to back All Irelands. Could there be a sense of deja vu?