Galway are back in the senior hurling final for the second year in a row after a harder than necessary three point win over an Ulster side that just wouldn’t give up. They’ll meet the Long Island Gaels on Sunday.
Galway had a seven-point lead with 13 minutes left but amazingly didn’t score again as they had at least five easy misses, while Ulster fired over four points to slowly narrow the gap.
One final drive for the goal that just wouldn’t arrive resulted with Johnny Coen stepping behind keeper Richie Gaule who had come out to the ball, and stopped the last goal bound effort with two minutes left to save the day. It was just one of the many heroic endeavors Coen had performed over the hour in a tremendous display for the winners.
The game started with fire; indeed before it started Ger Arthur was already in the wars. It’s unfair to say what happened as I did not see it, but suffice to say he was buckled.
Seconds after the throw in, Pat Hartley and Brian Glynn were rolling on the ground with the Galway forward ripping off the helmet of Hartley. A straight card offense, he wasn’t even booked which was a huge let off for the Tribe. Neither was Hartley for that matter, which told the players that shenanigans may be allowed to go unpunished.
Galway had the first three points of the game, from a Cooney free, Haran and Ryan from play, but the game was still out of hand as a blow to the head resulted in the free but no card again.
Ulster forced their way back into the game with three points in a five minute spell, with Arthur bookending a Sheehan free the sides split evenly the next eight scores as Galway repeatedly went ahead by one before Ulster hit back.
The pick of the litter was a Ryan score when Liam Butler picked him out with a tremendous cross field pass. Captain Jackson also had an outstanding long range effort in the mix.
The first goal arrived for Galway with 18 minutes on the clock. A long ball from Brendan Bulger was scooped up by Brian Glynn on the 30 yard line. The Ardrahan native stormed forward and broke two tackles before driving to the roof of the net with a brilliant finish. James Nolan followed with a point from play and Galway had their first notable lead.
Ulster had five of the next seven scores as the half wound down with five different players hitting the mark. However, it would have been even more but for the defensive brilliance of Aiden Harte and Coen who both had timely clearances and block downs in impressive performances. Keeper Gaule also dealt with a pair of dropping balls to the square efficiently to alleviate further danger.
There was still just the minimum between the sides, 1-10 to 0-12, as they ran from the heat for a well-deserved break.
The second half was certainly one of defensive dominance and wasted chances as the scores dried up dramatically in relation to the opening 30. Galway added three of the first four scores to their total with Ryan, Haran and Harte all hitting the mark.
A perfectly good looking drive from Haran to open the half was ruled wide which surprised many on the line. On the 10 minute mark, Cooney took a pass in the corner from Harte and rounded his marker before bearing down on goal. He soloed forward and expertly dispatched to the net for a 2-13 to 0-13 lead.
Following a Sheehan point from a free, Glynn drove over from fifty yards out when Haran found him, before Harte added a score from distance when he advanced into the Ulster half.
They were sailing, or were they? The wheels started to come off the Galway cart, at least at the shooting end.
Wides came from Cooney (a free and play), Ryan, Harte and Haran in the next 10 minutes as Ulster clawed their way back. Sheehan pointed a free when Hatzer was injured; Butler was booked for his challenge while Hatzer left the field.
Sheahan had two more frees while McTeague fired over from distance to narrow the gap to three with Galway relying on Harte, Coen, and Healy continually with danger lurking. They did not fail as they stopped numerous attacks before Coen’s heroics at the end.
Galway should have been cruising to the end but instead made their sideline sweat. Richie Gaule in a surprise start -- Terrence Grogan was the regular season keeper -- was very confident, and his puck outs but intense pressure on Ulster again and again. The full back line of Healy and Coen was excellent. Not easy positions in 13 a side hurling, they tackled hard and played from the front.
Aiden Harte had a very good day, and his driving forward resulted in positives continually including two points from his own stick. Butler and Ryan won the middle. However, the Clare man will have better days again especially from placed balls.
Captain Robbie Jackson was back in the forwards again and he didn’t disappoint with three from play and a number of other important contributions. Glynn on the 40 did the necessary job on Pat Hartley and took his scores well; he escaped the Paudge Collins punishment amazingly and was a thorn throughout.
Nolan and Haran were held to four points combined and showed throughout, although Nolan did take a breather for a period. County man Cooney was disappointing but for the goal. Indeed he was very fortunate not to have been replaced.