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Friday 9 December 2016

Gung-ho Galway join the Premier league

All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Galway 0-16 Tipperary 3-16

Shane Moloney celebrates after scoring the winning point for Galway during yesterday’s All- Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park
Shane Moloney celebrates after scoring the winning point for Galway during yesterday’s All- Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park
A dejected Seamus Callanan, Tipperary, is consoled by Galway's Padraig Mannion at the end of the game

Rookie Moloney clinches classic at the death

Nine days ago, Shane Moloney was helping Galway to an All-Ireland intermediate title.  Yesterday, in the dying seconds of a coruscating epic, the All-Ireland winning minor captain of 2011 propelled their seniors into the promised land of a September showdown with Kilkenny.

Some week. Some match. Some finish.

So Eamon O'Shea's three-year tenure in Tipperary ends on a typically 'what if?' note of deflation. Back in March, after Galway limped to a league quarter-final exit in Waterford, some commentators were also speculating on the looming demise of the Anthony Cunningham era ... not any more.

At several stages of this fabulous, feisty, edge-of-the-seat semi-final, our mercurial men from the west appeared on the verge of defeat.

Sledgehammer

Three times they were hit by the sledgehammer of a carbon copy Séamus Callanan goal - a long delivery, a clean catch, a ruthless execution.

Three times they sucked it up and came storming back at the Munster champions. It was if they they wouldn't - couldn't - countenance another faltering defeat. Nearly men no more ...

Thus, they reacted to the concession of Callanan's first goal - after 38 seconds - and another Callanan free soon after by chipping away at Tipp's lead for the rest of the first half.

Finally, in the first of almost five minutes of stoppage time, Cathal Mannion hit an inspirational point to draw them level. Then, even deeper into injury-time, Leaving Cert student Conor Whelan (who merits an A-plus for the successful chasing down of lost causes) edged Galway into a half-time lead, 0-13 to 1-9.

In the context of their calamitous start, it was a slender yet, so it seemed, psychologically massive advantage. Callanan was on fire - with 1-5 already to his name, all bar 0-1 from play - but the support from his colleagues was sporadic at best while a decisive majority in maroon were winning their individual duels. Even a ninth minute penalty save, the excellent Darren Gleeson guessing correctly to deny Joe Canning, couldn't suck the energy from Galway.

If the first half was intriguing, the second soared into the realms of captivating. Finally, this painfully slow-burning hurling championship had ignited in flames.

Yet it followed a similar pattern to the first. We had Galway out-battling and often out-hurling Tipp around the middle-third. We had Galway suffering a succession of sucker punches courtesy of Callanan's in-the-zone magnificence and the vulnerability of a rookie full-back, Pádraig Mannion, crying out for some protection in front. And finally we had Galway staring defeat but refusing to bend the knee.

Joe Canning was having one of those all-kinds-of-everything days - ten points, five wides, some clever assists, two goal chances saved and some audacious passes that didn't come off. But when he converted a sublime sideline cut on the restart, Galway had the luxury of a two-point cushion for the first and only time.

Fetch

Then back came Tipp, after 39 minutes, with another high ball (from Niall O'Meara), another Callanan fetch and another clinical finish.

What happened? Galway riposted with two rapid-fire points from their young snipers, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion, to regain the lead.

It remained nip-and-tuck until the 53rd minute, when Galway awoke to another Groundhog Day in the guise of a long ball (by Brendan Maher) fielded by Callanan and duly buried.

By now, Callanan's tally from play read 3-4. Not once had the Galway management tried to stem the leaking via the sweeper route, and the game was 56 minutes old before Mannion was rescued from his personal full-back nightmare, switching places with John Hanbury.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Galway were rattling off four on the spin to sneak back into a one-point lead. The first of those - Johnny Glynn fielding the next puckout after Callanan's hat-trick, to be fouled by Pádraic Maher for a Canning free - was a statement of defiance.

Only trouble was, Tipp were still scenting blood. The other Callanan, Galway netminder Colm, made a handful of second half saves, the most spectacular of all denying veteran sub Lar Corbett.

Callanan, of Tipp fame, levelled from the resultant '65' and then won a stonewall 65th minute penalty, rugby-tackled to the ground by Hanbury. The crude tactic worked as, for once, Tipp's No 14 betrayed wrists of clay: his penalty went high but straight and his namesake tipped over.

Fairytale

Still, the favourites were back in front. Then four quick points were shared, the last coming from Tipp sub Noel McGrath, who briefly promised the ultimate fairytale ending for player and team.

Instead that belonged to Galway. Flynn brilliantly equalised from the touchline and, after he and late sub Moloney fluffed chances, the latter took up the invitation of Canning's exquisite pass to land a richly deserved winner.

Thoughts of Kilkenny, and how their shaky full-back line will cope with TJ Reid & Co, can wait. Galway have enriched the summer.

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