JUST AFTER LUNCHTIME yesterday, a bunch of Kilkenny fans made their way into the shadows of Croke Park.
They had the road to themselves as in this climate you won’t get many to travel plus pay to see predictability. With their Brian Cody-style caps loose on their heads and a presumption in their stride, they trundled ever closer to the stadium and talked about anything but hurling. It wasn’t an arrogance, it never is with them, it was more like heading to the post box to check the mail or a trip to the field to take a look at the cattle.
Days like these are simply matter-of-fact for Kilkenny folk, however difficult it is for the rest of the country to understand that. You come. You see. You conquer. You head home for a bite of supper and then it’s off to bed, again a Leinster champion. No big deal.
Just after dinnertime yesterday, a group of Galway journalists awaited the arrival of their manager in the press room. They puffed their cheeks out in shock, shook their heads in disbelief and filled every silence with the same few words. “Lads, I didn’t see that coming.” Nobody did and from there they’d talk about Kilkenny and how they’d hate to be the next team to face them and how they’ll be back and how they’ll probably still win it all regardless. And then they’d puff their cheeks again, shake their heads again and start all over again. “Lads, seriously, I didn’t see that coming.”
From lunchtime to dinnertime, from those Kilkenny fans to those Galway journalists. The impossible dream. The miracle leap. Them boys over in CERN may well be able to solve the mysteries of the universe but let them sort the long from the short of this and we’ll be really impressed.
In truth it’ll be analysed and overanalysed when it should simply be enjoyed and admired and it will probably remain an unsolved mystery anyway. Brian Cody said the better team won but Kilkenny lost. Brian Cody said they always play with intensity but Kilkenny were outhooked and outfought, outhurled and outthought. Brian Cody said they’ll be back. Ah, they will be. But for once this wasn’t about Kilkenny. Memories like these aren’t made too often in hurling sadly, and when they are they should be treasured for the right reasons and for the positive storyline.
Just before the 20 minute mark, with David Collins moving up from corner-back to hit a point, Kilkenny still hadn’t scored. They hadn’t even manufactured a wide while Galway were in a nine-point lead. It was one of those days in Croke Park where a low, hazy cloud descended and a misty rain fell. For those Galway fans looking on in disbelief and screaming every score for fear not making the most of it would cause it all to end, it must have seemed like the sort of dream you have the night before big championship games. So outrageous you don’t even mention it on the journey to the match. The west was awake but they surely thought they were sound asleep and would be pulled back into reality at any minute.
Galway captain Fergal Moore with his nephew Darragh after the game. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
But somehow this was reality. For the first half in particular, Tony Óg Regan, Niall Donoghue and Johnny Coen looked like a half-back line 40 yards from them. They won almost every high ball, and even when it broke David Collins, Fergal Moore and Kevin Hynes swept it up and crashed into bodies with complete disregard for their own before pulling up, taking a split second and delivering the ideal diagonal pass into the corner. It was aggression but cerebral aggression. The thinking man’s kamikaze.
In front of them Iarla Tannion and Andy Smith caught ball and then put their heads down and ran the right line as fast and as hard as they could. David Burke, Niall Burke and Cyril Donnellan did the same when they weren’t running into space and clipping over outrageous points from all angles. Damian Hayes and Conor Cooney always found a yard and the ball. Joe Canning covered the entire field, like the kid we once knew that showed up, looked interested and amazed us. Even James Skehill caught the one Kilkenny effort in that opening quarter, a Henry Shefflin free that dipped too soon. A complete team effort.
In short, they looked like Kilkenny ironically. And they flustered Kilkenny so much that by the end of the first half Tommy Walsh was driving his hurl through air and not the sliothar from a sideline cut. A huge cheer went up. His county’s chances may have been dented rather than broken but with each moment here his aim of 10 All Stars on the trot seeped away. It’ll take something as special as this Galway performance for him to complete the decade.
In their two games to date Galway conceded 7-27, an average of 24 points a game. That was against Westmeath and Offaly yet they held Kilkenny to 17 points. But statistics seem too cold a way of describing what happened here. Warmer sources are needed. Marty Morrissey’s voice was gone by 20 minutes we discovered when watching the match again into the early hours and we swear he arrived in perfect health, not a touch of hoarseness from the previous evening’s efforts in Ennis. The Sunday Game showed up in the team hotel last night as if it was an All Ireland yet no one dared say they were overdoing it.
Perspective? You’d still fancy Kilkenny to win the All Ireland, you’d think they would beat Galway should they come upon them again, you still wouldn’t be sure Galway can give us a repeat performance as they’ve promised and lied before. But all that is for another week.
When a miracle happens you don’t look for another one. When Galway trounce Kilkenny and win a Leinster title, you sit back and appreciate just what they have done. And only now can we finally draw breath. Only now can we take it all in.