Shane Stapleton was at The Gaelic Grounds to see Conor Whelan score 1-4 as Galway saw off Tipperary in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final.
Galway 1-20 Tipperary 1-18 All-Ireland SHC quarter-final
Galway showed a steely nerve to see off Tipperary in a tense All-Ireland SHC quarter-final at the Gaelic Grounds.
Conor Whelan blasted 1-4 past the Premier to vault himself into Hurler of the Year contention, while Cianan Fahy, Evan Niland and substitute Tom Monaghan played huge scoring roles.
The Tribe were stung by a last-second goal in the Leinster SHC final when they were beaten by Kilkenny, but this time they stood firm as Tipp goalkeeper Rhys Shelly dropped a late free into the penalty area, with Sean Linnane ferrying the ball clear.
Against the protestations of the public dresser speaker, supporters rushed onto the field on the final whistle, as a relieved Henry Shefflin slalomed his way through human traffic.
The Kilkenny icon would have hoped to land some silverware at this stage of his tenure or won some key championship matches, and defeat here may have posed questions of his reign.
Yet the manner in which his team dominated much of the game and saw it out under pressure will make them feel they can rattle Limerick in the semi-final.
Liam Cahill looked frustrated from first whistle to last, as his team were out-muscled and, in truth, out-thought.
Tipperary have looked to combine finesse with brute force this year and it worked for much of the Munster campaign.
In this game, with Galway sitting deep and leaving their key men isolated upfront, Tipp were forced to shoot from deep or drive in long ball.
The Premier men in the middle sector and half-forward line are good hurlers but Alan Tynan, Seamus Kennedy, Dan McCormack and Conor Stakelum (the 0-6 against Offaly notwithstanding) will rarely punish a quality side like the Tribe too often from 90 yards. Or not enough for victory.
The other upside of this set-up for Shefflin’s side was that they could lessen the space within which Jake Morris could operate, while Seamus Callanan and Mark Kehoe were both withdrawn at the break after having minimal impacts.
It will be a long winter of soul-searching for Cahill and Co, and he will hope to have the likes of Barry Heffernan, Craig Morgan, Paddy Cadell, and Ger Browne back in harness, with perhaps an Under-20 prospect or two to go with it.
Galway won by two points but it could quite easily have been ten.
It felt as though they had an extra player in more than one sector of the field for long spells of the game.
In many way, the Connacht men might well have been out of sight at half time but for their wastefulness in front of goal.
Between great chances and half ones, they had four looks at the whites off Shelly’s eyes but came away with zero green flags.
Cathal Barrett missed a delivery upfield as Whelan levered his marker, but ended up at too narrow of an angle after spilling at the first attempt.
Another spill from Whelan when close to goal allowed him to be swallowed up close to goal, with John Keenan awarding a free to the Tribe forward.
Whelan again was in on goal after a needless Tipp turnover, with Kevin Cooney stick-passing for the Kinvara man to laser a shot at the goalkeeper.
Shelly did well but it should have been a goal, and instead it deflected over for a single.
The final look at the net came just before the interval when a long ball into the Tipp area broke, with Barrett just about whipping the ball away as Whelan was drawing on it.
At 0-10 to 0-7 in front at the break, Shefflin must have been frustrated. His team had managed to draw huge Tipp traffic into their half, leaving Whelan and Kevin Cooney in huge space for deliveries upfield.
Tipp didn’t seem to know what to do. They laboured in traffic through the middle and on the fringes and their long balls into the full-forward line found nothing only maroon paws.
Cahill called Jake Morris over midway through the opening half to plead for more, bumping his fist into the chest of the Nenagh man.
The one sniff at goal that Tipperary had was when Callanan intercepted an Eanna Murphy puckout and forced his way towards the ’21.
The Drom-Inch man almost overcarried as he dithered over what to do, before eventually blasting a shot at a Galway defender.
With just 15 chances created to the Tribe’s 23, and points from play for Tipp coming only from full-back Michael Breen, Jason Forde and Tynan, there was a sense that the 7-38 accrued against Offaly had no relevance.
Whelan — who is now Galway’s third-highest championship scorer ever — found the net at the start of the second half as Barrett tried to shoot out in front for a ball, which Breen gathered before being turned over by the Kinvara man to score.
Gearoid O’Connor — who presumably would have started if he had 70 minutes in the legs — and Tynan narrowed the gap before Niland and Forde traded frees.
Having created no real goal chance, Noel McGrath then popped a lovely stick-pass over the top for Tynan, who carried it at Gearoid McInerney before firing wide across the goals.
Fahy (two), Daithi Burke and Whelan then split the posts to push 1-15 to 0-10 ahead with 20 minutes to go, and it seemed to be all she wrote.
To be fair to the Premier, Ronan Maher and Forde hit points after assists by O’Connor, as Galway missed six efforts at the posts in a row.
Nerves, of course, were being strained both on the field and out on the sidelines, especially when Johnny Ryan and Forde (free) brought Tipp back to within four.
Minutes later, Cahill’s men were only a point behind when McInerney was turned over, Bowe had a shot from 55 yards half-blocked, then Forde’s whipped attempt inside the area was stopped, with substitute John McGrath pulling the rebound to the net.
Would panic set in? Not a bit of it as Monaghan fired over and then Niland popped one to cancel out a free from Forde.
Fahy should have buried a goal chance after Cathal Mannion intercepted a Tipperary pass high up the field, but then Niland and Monaghan did the needful once more to push the Tribe three in front.
Forde clipped over a free after Linnane had rugby-tackled Bowe to the turf out on the right wing, and again we were shown why cynical fouls anywhere on the pitch should result in penalties. Why, if not to stop goals, do these rugby tackles ever happen?
Linnane, to be fair, did the right thing given the rules in place, and it allowed The Tribe to stay ahead. He was also the man to run away with that last ball after Shelly dropped a long free in.
The Tribe on top, and deservedly so.