Injuries, lack of goals, loss of form – where did it go wrong for the Galway hurlers?

Kevin O’Brien reports from Parnell Park

BOTH COUNTIES WHO contested the 2017 All-Ireland final – Waterford and Galway – have watched their seasons go up in flames in the 2019 provincial championships.

There’ll be a good deal of soul searching done over the coming months in Galway. A mid-June ending to the campaign means it’ll be 11 months before they puck a ball in championship hurling again. 

It’s the first year since 2014 that the Tribesmen have failed to reach at least the All-Ireland semi-final stage. This group of players have been regular visitors to the business end of the championship over the past few seasons and this early exit will sting greatly. 

Since Joe Canning went down with a groin injury in the league semi-final against Wexford, Galway haven’t looked quite themselves. They defeated Carlow by just six points, when Kilkenny (14 points), Dublin (12) and Wexford (15) all beat Colm Bonnar’s side by far greater margins.

In a group that came down to scoring difference, that proved costly. Then there was the dour 0-16 apiece draw with Wexford, when Galway led by six at half-time. Wexford forward Cathal Dunbar blew a glorious goal chance at the death that would have handed his team the victory.

Micheal Donoghue’s side raised a gallop against Kilkenny last weekend. They fired in three goals in their best performance of the year in Nowlan Park, prevailing in a shoot-out by a point. All the signs indicated that Galway were finding some form at the right time.

Michael Donoghue during the Dublin defeat.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But a lack of goalscoring threat raised its head again in Parnell Park last night. They famously didn’t net a green flag during the last four games of their All-Ireland winning campaign of 2017 and failed to do so again in Parnell Park last night, while Dublin hit the net three times.

The groin injury Joe Canning suffered against Waterford in March derailed Galway’s season. Their over-reliance on the Portumna ace was evident during his spell on the sidelines.

He underwent surgery and missed 10 weeks of action, returning to the field as a 42nd minute substitute against Dublin. 

Within three minutes of his introduction, Canning had his first point. He arrowed over a strike from the wing to push Galway 0-15 to 2-8 in front. The travelling support showed their appreciation and the momentum appeared to be with Galway.

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From the 48th minute on, Dublin would outscore the Tribe by 1-11 to 0-9. Galway shipped a blow after 25 minutes with the loss of Conor Whelan to a shoulder injury. Conor Cooney also missed the Kilkenny and Dublin games with a shoulder problem he picked up against Wexford.

So for a decent chunk of the Dublin game they were without their primary three score-getters – Canning, Whelan and Cooney. Niall Burke came off the bench in the 53rd minute and lasted eight minutes before injury also forced his early departure. 

Joe Canning comes on as a sub.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Galway played the majority of their Allianz Hurling League campaign without Niall Burke, Gearoid McInerney, Conor Cooney, Joseph Cooney, David Burke, Johnny Glynn and Daithi Burke for various reasons – and they never really clicked as a team once that experienced contingent returned.

2019 has been by far the least successful year of Donoghue’s reign in charge of Galway.

He was ratified for a new two-year term last November, meaning the Clarinbridge man is expected to stay in charge until at least 2020. 

“That’s sport, we’re obviously bitterly, bitterly disappointed,” he said.

“Look, I’ve said it umpteen times – I’m so proud of these lads. They worked really hard, you know, you have to give huge credit to Dublin. Look, goals win games and they got them at the right time.

“The peno after half-time, we responded well and held them okay for a while after that. But then they got another one and as I say, goals win matches. 

“They were the permutations coming into it, you know, obviously we’re absolutely devastated with it, the fact that we lost and that the other game was a draw, that was out of our control.

“Look, as I said, I’m immensely proud of our lads, they worked hard and kept at it. It’s a tough one to take but that’s what we have to take.” 

They’ll be back and the lengthy break might do the weary bodies no harm in the long run.

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