All-Ireland SHC Semi-final
LIMERICK 2-24 GALWAY 1-18
By John Harrington at Croke Park
When Limerick trailed by six points after 25 minutes of this All-Ireland semi-final, you wondered were the three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions teetering.
They’d been out-hustled and out-thought by a Galway team bristling with energy, and struggled to muster their usual mixture of fluency with the ball and controlled aggression without it.
But then their defence with William O’Donoghue in an unfamiliar position of centre-back got to grips with the men they were marking, they began competing with their usual zeal for ball in the middle third, and they dominated the puck-out battle.
That gave them the platform to really get their forwards into the contest and they completely dominated the last 10 minutes of the first half and all of the second to eventually run out very comfortable victors.
Clearly the hunger of this Limerick team remains undiminished as they now advance to yet another All-Ireland Final, and bid to make it four titles in a row and five in six years.
The manner in which their challenge petered out after a very encouraging start will be hugely disappointing for the Galway players.
They had settled into the contest quickly, with points from Evan Niland (free) and Brian Concannon sandwiching an Aaron Gillane free for Limerick.
But then, somewhat against the run of play, Limerick landed the first heavy blow of the game when Gillane struck for a trademark goal.
He showed great strength to catch a Tom Morrissey pass above the head of Daithi Burke, and finished from close-range ruthlessly.
Galway hit back immediately with another Niland free which testified to the steely mental resolve they were bringing to bear on the contest.
Another Niland free brought them level and then Conor Whelan pushed them back into the lead when he won a ball ahead of Mike Casey, wriggled free from the Limerick defender, and lanced the sliotar over the bar.
Another Niland free quickly followed before Limerick levelled the game again – 1-3 to 0-6 – through points from Gillane (free) and Peter Casey.
Then came the best attacking play of the match so far when Kevin Cooney played in Cathal Mannion with a pass of real vision and the midfielder lashed the sliotar to the net from a tight angle.
Galway really had the bit between their teeth now and Concannon landed a very sweet point when he sidestepped beautifully past Kyle Hayes before driving it over the bar.
Concannon was causing Limerick big problems because he was drifting all over the pitch into pockets of space and both making himself available for passes and hitting some great diagonal ones himself into Conor Whelan from deep positions.
At the other end of the pitch Limerick’s shooting was uncharacteristically off-colour with seven different players hitting seven wides in the first half.
Galway were more clinical, both from play and placed balls, and by the 25th minute had moved 1-12 to 1-6 ahead.
A tricky situation for Limerick could have been much worse had Mike Casey not made a brilliant goal-line save from a Concannon ground-stroke that looked destined for the net.
As if energised by that near-miss, Limerick came to life in the final 10 minutes of the first-half.
Darragh O’Donovan deserves a lot of credit for their resurgence. He hit a great point from wide on the left and then set up two more for Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan with beautifully weighted passes.
The reigning champions hit the last four points of the half to leave the scores reading 1-13 to 1-12 to Galway at the break, which must not have felt reflective of the huge effort the Tribesmen had produced.
Limerick have a well-earned reputation for putting their foot on the gas at the start of the second-half and they did it again in this match.
They out-scored Galway by four points to two in the first ten minutes of the half with the pick of the bunch an inspirational effort from Tom Morrissey.
Then came their second-goal, and it was one Galway will have nightmares about.
Cian Lynch put David Reidy through with a clever pass and when the wing-forward squared it to Aaron Gillane his initial batted effort struck the cross-bar.
Padraic Mannion attempted to flick the rebound clear, but instead he directed it straight into Gillane’s path again and this time the Patrickswell star finished ruthlessly as he lashed a ground-stroke to the net.
Now trailing by four points, Galway were in real trouble. They were struggling to get any sort of grip on the game because Limerick swallowed the ball up almost every time Éanna Murphy pucked it out.
And when they did manage to win possession in the middle third, they were under so much pressure from swarming Limerick tacklers they struggled to get decent passes into their starving inside forwards.
Points from Kyle Hayes, Gearoid Hegarty, Peter Casey, and David Reidy pushed a now very dominant Limerick team seven points clear by the 58th minute, and even by then a Galway comeback looked very unlikely.
Limerick had the luxury of running their bench, and won pulling up, with subs Graeme Mulcahy and Cathal O’Neill getting in on the act in the injury-time as they scored the final two points of the game.
And, so, Limerick march on to another All-Ireland Final where they will hope to ink another historic chapter in their already remarkable story.
Scorers for Limerick: Aaron Gillane 2-6 (5f), Diarmaid Byrnes 0-3 (3f), Kyle Hayes, Gearóid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, Peter Casey, Seamus Flanagan all 0-2, Darragh O’Donovan, Graeme Mulcahy, Cathal O’Neill, David Reidy, Cian Lynch all 0-1
Scorers for Galway: Evan Niland 0-9 (all frees), Cathal Mannion 1-1, Conor Whelan 0-3, Brian Concannon 0-3, Kevin Cooney, Tom Monaghan both 0-1
LIMERICK: Nickie Quaid; Michael Casey, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes, William O’Donoghue, Kyle Hayes; Darragh O’Donovan, Cian Lynch; Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, Dv; Aaron Gillane, Seamus Flanagan, Peter Casey. Subs: Cathal O’Neill for Tom Morrissey (56), Graeme Mulcahy for Peter Casey (67), Conor Boylan for Gearóid Hegarty (69), Oisin O’Reilly for Seamus Flanagan, Adam English for Darragh O’Donovan (both 72)
GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; Jack Grealish, Daithí Burke, Darren Morrissey; Padraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Seán Linnane; Joseph Cooney, Cathal Mannion; Ronan Glennon, Cianan Fahy, Kevin Cooney; Conor Whelan, Brian Concannon, Evan Niland. Subs: Tom Monaghan for Ronan Glennon (50), Conor Cooney for Sean Linnane (54), Liam Collins for Brian Concannon (63), Fintan Burke for Cianan Fahy (68)
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)