The appetiser before the main meal was seriously tasty as Galway edged out Cork in today’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling Final.
The young Tribesmen came into the game as underdogs but they hurled their hearts out to record a brilliant victory.
Cork had a big billing after an impressive run to the Final and their undoubted class was plain for all to see, but Galway matched them for pure skill.
But in the final reckoning it was pure hard graft that probably won them this match, because the doggedness of their tackling, hooking, and blocking was of the very highest calibre.
They showed impressive mental strength too because they shipped some heavy blows in the first half but their resolve never wavered.
Cork scored their first goal of the match straight from the throw-in as Brian Turnbull hit a ground-stroke to the back of the net after just six seconds.
And when his fellow corner-forward Evan Sheehan cracked home a brilliant second goal from a tight angle to put Cork 2-3 to 0-3 ahead after 13 minutes, it looked like the game would go like most predicted it would.
But Galway hadn’t read that script. They dug in, defended with great tenacity, and began slowing the quantity and quality of ball making its way into Turnbull and Sheehan.
At the other end of the field the strapping Sean Bleahene was starting to make his presence felt and a couple of points from him and some sure free-taking from Conor Molloy had reduced the gap to just three points at the break – 2-7 to 0-10 in Cork’s favour.
Galway’s star man Jack Canning had been well marshalled in the first-half by Cork captain Sean O’Leary Hayes, but he exploded into life in the second-half and provided Galway with the impetus to win the game.
He bore more than a passing resemblance to his uncle Joe when he smashed home two brilliant goals to the roof of the Cork net in the first ten minutes of the second-half to turn the contest on its head.
The confidence seemed to drain from the young Cork hurlers, and they struggled to find an adequate response in the face of some brilliantly aggressive Galway defending.
Canning and Bleahane were now bullying the Cork full-back line and two more points from the deadly duo pushed Galway 2-16 to 2-11 ahead.
Credit to Cork, they came with a late charge that ensured the game went right down to the wire.
Two points from the brilliant Turnbull sandwiched one from Robert Downey to reduce the gap to two points with five minutes to go.
Craig Hanafin had a half-chance to score a goal for Cork after a powerful run and smart pass from classy centre-forward Liam O’Shea, but he couldn’t get his shot off and was then suffocated by the scrambling Galway defence.
Try as they might Cork just couldn’t make any more inroads into Galway’s lead, and that was thanks largely to some truly inspirational blocking and tackling by Jeffrey Lynskey’s young charges.
When the final whistle blew Croke Park erupted as the Galway supporters hailed the perfect start to their afternoon.
It wasn’t Cork’s day, but many of their players clearly have very bright futures despite this result.
Final Score: GALWAY 2-17 CORK 2-15
Scorers for Galway: Jack Canning 2-2, Conor Molloy 0-7 (7f), Sean Bleahene 0-5, Ben Moran 0-1, Donal Mannion 0-1, Daniel Loftus 0-1.
Scorers for Cork: Brian Turnbull 1-7 (3f), Evan Sheehan 1-0, Liam O’Shea 0-3, Craig Hanafin 0-2, Robert Downey 0-1, Daire Connery 0-1, Barry Murphy 0-1.
GALWAY: Darach Fahy; Caimin Killeen, Daniel Loftus, Darren Morrissey; Ronan Gleenon, Conor Caulfield, Mark Gill; Conor Walsh Conor Fahy; Ben Moran, Conor Molloy, Martin McManus; Sean Bleahene, Donal Mannion, Jack Canning. Subs: Shane Ryan for Martin McManus (ht), Sam McArdle for Daniel Loftus (54), Mark Kennedy for Ben Moran (56), Enda Fahy for Conor Walsh (60).
CORK: Ger Collins; Conor O’Callaghan, Sean O’Leary Hayes, Eoin Roche; Aaron Walsh Barry, James Keating, Ger Millerick; Daire Connery, Diarmuid Linehan; Craig Hanafin, Liam O’Shea, Brian Roche; Evan Sheehan, Robert Downey, Brian Turnbull. Subs: Declan Hanlon for Diarmuid Linehan (39), Barry Murphy for Aaron Walsh Barry (46)
Ref: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)
Report by: John Harrington at Croke Park