25 August 2005 Edition
Re-birth of Galway hurling
Last year I cut a lonely figure in Matt the Miller's pub in Kilkenny City. Proudly wearing the maroon and white of my native Galway in a city of black and amber I watched with growing horror as Galway went down to a 19-point hammering at the hands of Kilkenny in Thurles.
Crying into my beer at the bar it was made all the worse by the silent reaction and averted glances of triumphant Kilkenny fans who took pity on me in the way one does at someone who has just suffered a great personal tragedy or been diagnosed with some terminal disease.
Last Sunday we went to Croke Park with hopes of vengeance, but also with unspoken fears of a repeat performance and when Eddie Brennan scored Kilkenny's first goal less than five minutes into the match unbidden images from Semple Stadium flashed before me.
But there was no collapse and Kilkenny failed to pull away. Ger Farragher, whose 2-9 total would be enough to win many games by itself, kept us in touch with some accurate free-taking as Kilkenny backs resorted to fouling the pacier Galway forwards.
And it was Farragher who ignited Croke Park and the match with two goals in the space of a minute as the break neared sending jubilant Galway supporters dizzy with the possibility of humiliating the Leinster Champions.
But no team wearing black and amber ever goes quietly and just before half-time a panicked Galway defender incomprehensibly hand passed across the goalmouth allowing Henry Shefflin to get his first of two goals, with John Hoyne adding another after a second defensive error.
At half-time we moved from the Canal End, where my father had been frightening some young Australian men watching a hurling game for the first time and unused perhaps to the passion of GAA supporters, to the Hogan stand. Galway went into half-time three points ahead but with the long experience of a man whose heart has been broken by his team in Croke Park too many times my father reckoned the Kilkenny goals before the break might be a turning point.
It seemed at first as if he might be right. Kilkenny continued to close the gap after the break and drew level but Niall Healy restored the lead, pouncing on a rebound off a tremendous save by Kilkenny's McGarry from Richie Murray to get his first of a hat-trick of goals.
It's worth noting that while McGarry conceded five goals on two occasions he pulled off fantastic saves only for Galway forwards to pounce on the ball as Kilkenny defensive cover seemed to vanish.
Last 15 minutes
And so we entered the last 15 minutes eleven points in front, nauseous with excitement, with the sense of the impossible being made possible but knowing the best team in the country was not going to allow us an easy ride to the finish. And inexorably Kilkenny narrowed the gap. Eddie Brennan supplied their last goal, as he had supplied their first. Richie Power seemed to point whenever the ball was in his hand.
Galway backs wavered in the face of swarms of Kilkenny jerseys and only a point from late substitute Kevin Broderick gave us anything to cheer about in the dying minutes of the match.
As we entered injury time I was becoming convinced that in a game with nine goals, a tenth from Kilkenny to equalise was almost inevitable. But the Galway half back line rallied and three or four desperate Kilkenny attacks were stopped at the 65 yard line by a Galway defence that refused to yield.
And then there was the whistle and stewards were forced aside as the people of Galway claimed ownership of the pitch and celebrated a re-birth of Galway championship hurling.
Still shaken by the experience I was walking out of Croke Park afterwards with a knot of Galway supporters, strangers to each other but exchanging wide and easy smiles of disbe