In the early stages of the 1994 All #Ireland SHC Final, Limerick corner forward Damien Quigley appeared to be going to obliterate the #Offaly defence single handed. The Na Piarsaigh clubman had already amassed 2-2 when, if recollection is correct, the Faithful County’s great goalkeeper of that era, Jim Troy, thwarted his attempts at a hat-trick. The climax to that match, which centred on goals from Johnny Dooley and substitute Pat O’Connor and a plethora of points from an exhausted looking Billy Dooley, ranks up there with those penalties in Genoa in 1990 and #Meath’s heroics of July the following year for its unforgettable nature.
Don’t underestimate the importance of Joe Dooley’s first half goal – after Johnny’s penalty was saved – but Troy getting a stick to the Quigley shot was probably the real game changer as a third ‘major’ would almost certainly have condemned it as a contest.
Goalkeepers have, of course, been known to make seminal contributions. See Davy Fitzgerald’s penalty in the 1995 Munster final or a similar strike by Damien Fitzhenry in the Leinster championship in ’96 as reference points. But saving penalties? Surely the presence of two lieutenants alongside was testament enough to the difficulty of such endeavours.
Now examine how things presently proceed. In football, the penalty spot has been moved closer to goal, but what was touted as an even more seismic change befell hurling when it was this season decided that such strikes should simply be ‘keeper against taker. Logic, then, would surely dictate that such adjustments favoured those shooting.
Except the opposite has proven to be the case. A sense that Tipperary stopper Darren Gleeson may have had a head start having been the custodian used to trial the initiative hasn’t exposed any glaring deficiencies among his peers. If anything, the standard of goalkeeping is now better than ever.
As much as changes to the composition of the sliotar has been predominantly responsible for the changing face of the game, amidst all talk of evolution, the basics still remain paramount. And the recalibration of the goalkeeping role has merely underlined this. Whilst also, maybe surprisingly, highlighting the supreme skill of those who ply their trade in the most specialised role in that code.
Galway net minder Colm Callanan gave the first indication that things may not work out as many had expected when stopping a penalty against Dublin. However, strange as it may seem, it was the realisation that it was a similar intervention by the same player close to the end of a fixture which contained 45 scores which confirmed that, no matter how much – or in what way – things may evolve, the last line is as pivotal as ever.
It’s also that eventuality, mind you, which deems the epic cacophony of an encounter between Callanan’s crew and Tipperary wholly worthy of comparison with the other standout events referred to earlier.
Seeing the other Callanan, Seamus, fire past his namesake after half a minute presented two possible outcomes. Either the Premier County would streak away or Galway would be stirred into a response which could suggest a day of days. Everything the Tribesmen had produced thus far this season suggested the latter and by grace of whoever for the viewing public – and to the cardiac risk of some, so it went.
There’s something different about Anthony Cunnigham’s team this year. They always had players capable of illuminating the darkest pit of a coal mine. Such still pertains, now though, their crop seems to have more bulk to it where previously they had disintegrated like chaff. Joe Canning’s role – perhaps his meaning within the group – has also merited re-evaluation.
He remains arguably the most gifted exponent of the ancient game, if something of an enigmatic figure as well. Yet here, even though he sent the umpire for a flag ten times, it was the obvious reduction in reliance upon him from his colleagues that spoke loudest. Impetus driven by David Burke and Jason Flynn and Johnny Glynn and Cathal Mannion underlined that this year they are a different breed.
For a brief period, it appeared the romantics would have the casting vote. Lar Corbett entered the fray and recollections of 2010 were stirred. Then, chances are there wasn’t a throat without a lump in it in the country as Noel McGrath came. His mere presence on the field was a triumph far greater than anything which may appear important in sport and tugged at the heart strings at any of us who’ve been in some way touched by cancer. That’s all of us.
Had the point he magnificently essayed over ended up being the winner, the country would’ve been awash with joyous tears. If the audience, both present and viewing from afar, had been recalled for a necessary Act II, few would have complained either. Galway were the better team on the day, maybe the team of the season. They will need to be all that and more to dislodge the irresistible force.