Conall Devlin takes a look at Connaughts chances of taking home two All Ireland Senior Championship titles.
Connaught has been privy to droughts over the course of history, drugstore none less than in GAA All Ireland Senior Championship success, store but as this year’s campaigns draw to a close at the end of this month, prostate the defiant Galway hurlers and tenacious Mayo footballers aim to flip the script on the status quo of recent times. The opportunity to be freed from the choker tags with which they have been so infamously associated has never been greater.
In the Hurling, the King and Prince of the game have to do it all again. Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin and Galway’s Joe Canning proved why they are considered the top two talents in the game as they led an intriguing shootout in Sunday’s final that ended in an honourable truce, 0-19 2-13. The marksmen rattled up 0-12 and 1-9 respectively and with the game on the line Canning nervelessly guided over a free like a faded golf shot to ensure that the tie go to a replay, the first for an All Ireland Hurling final since 1959.
It was not as flashy as some of the outstanding finals of recent years, but Shefflin and Canning were instrumental in delivering upon all the hype of the occasion- there were contentious frees, contentious points, a relatively tentative Kilkenny rattled at times in the first half by a defiant Galway before Shefflin almost single handedly turned the game around. The dirge of clichés in sport when the game ends in a draw that ‘neither team deserved to lose’ in all too loosely applied, however even as Kilkenny legend DJ Carey admitted, it was a relief to see Canning slot over the equalizer to avoid the heartache of sporting regret and ensure that this epic battle be concluded on another day. Not even the most partisan of Kilkenny supporters would have wished the fledgling career of hurling’s finest to suffer such blemish.
Despite the 10 point victory over Kilkenny in the Leinster Championship, many doubted Galway’s ability to match up the experience of one of the greatest Hurling teams of all time. Many doubted that man of the match Iarla Tannian would break even the likes of Brian Hogan. However, few would now doubt that Galway, the young pretenders, have the beating of this Kilkenny side and can reclaim the Liam McCarthy Cup for the first time since 1988. UCD students and Kilkenny panelists Cillian Buckley, Wally Walsh and Willie Phelan will hope Liam returns for another year.
Meanwhile in the Football, UCD’s Chris Barrett was a late replacement for Colm Boyle in the Mayo defence for the surprise deposition of reigning champions Dublin in the semi final. Barrett nullified the threat of the roving Paul Flynn and with Dublin on the verge of a historic comeback made a last ditch goal line block on Bernard Brogan to ensure Mayo held on. Barrett’s performance was indicative of James Horan’s blueprint on the county. A level headed manager with old style gravitas, his pragmatic approach has paid dividends on the county’s performances. A stale Dublin side came up against a team in Mayo that had the temerity to tear them apart, standing up to their physical strength and running game.
However, they will encounter a different animal when they march into Croke Park on the 23rd September looking to claim their first Sam Maguire since 1951. Ulster champions Donegal have been the best team in the country this year and Mayo will need a new level of elusiveness, skill and intelligence to outmanoeuvre their powerhouse opponents. Cork, Kerry, Down and Tyrone have all been outfought and outsmarted by Jim McGuinness’ team this year and Mayo have not come up against players in as good form as Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh and Colm McFadden to date. Dublin had the dreaded slippage of hunger and standards so endemic from winning an All Ireland where Donegal have the same thirst as Mayo for making history. For all of the above, it is a novel pairing for an All Ireland final- two counties who have reinvigorated the football championship.
So for two more Sundays in early autumn, Jones Road will be flooded full of hope, the eternal disappointment and scepticism a thing of yesteryear, the years of yearning for their day out in the sun just 70 minutes away. It will either be immortality for King Henry or Prince Canning, Jim McGuinness or James Horan, Paddy McBrearty or Cillian O’Connor. The Wesht is rarin’ to go.