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By Cian O'Connell

"There was an element of inevitability about it, in a way," Galway manager Shane O'Neill laughs about the fact that a Championship match against his native Limerick is imminent.

Sunday's All Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park is loaded with importance.

"You always felt it was going to happen because we are two of the top teams in the competition, so it was going to happen at some stage," O'Neill adds.

Contact, though, with a raft of his former Na Piarsaigh players and colleagues has been curtailed.

"Obviously, I know the boys very well, particularly the Na Piarsaigh lads and there are seven of them on the squad," O'Neill says.

"I'd be in regular contact, being my own club, we decided that we'd stop after the provincial finals, that there wouldn't be any contact. We haven't had contact for a while."

O'Neill hurled at Under 21 level for Limerick alongside John Kiely and both also featured for the green and white senior team.

"John and I, we were on the Limerick squad in the 90s and we hurled Under 21, lost the Munster final to Cork by a goal," O'Neill recalls.

"I know John well and I know personally. He is an absolute gentleman and has done a great job with Limerick."

In the west O'Neill wants to ensure Galway remain relevant too and is satisfied with the three displays delivered against Wexford, Kilkenny, and Tipperary.

 

Galway manager Shane O'Neill pictured at the LIT Gaelic Grounds last Saturday.
Galway manager Shane O'Neill pictured at the LIT Gaelic Grounds last Saturday.

 

Galway did suffer a Leinster final loss to the Cats sandwiched either side of two victories, but O'Neill is encouraged by the performances.

"Yeah, which is a huge credit to the players to be honest," O'Neill replies.

"They’ve only had a few weeks since the county finals in October, so we had a very short window.

"Sometimes that can help, just that little bit of freshness and not getting bogged down in any particular type of game plan and letting the boys just hurl.

"In fairness, they have hurled very well over the three games but to overcome Limerick we’ll have to go to a different level altogether."

Does the fact that O'Neill holds an in depth knowledge of the Limerick club scene and players carry relevance?

"We would know the players, but that maybe a hindrance in that you might have preconceived ideas about players, and that is like any management going into a particular set-up, as well, having that element of freshness and seeing something different," O'Neill replies.

"I am not too sure if it will make much of a difference. All the teams are playing at an extremely top-class level, all the players are at a top-class level, they are extremely good hurlers.

"The pace of hurling, the skill of hurling, across the board is phenomenal, and Limerick seem to be leading that at the moment."

That Galway summoned an instant response when beating Tipperary following the Kilkenny setback was a real positive according to O'Neill.

"I suppose the biggest one is the fact that we won," O'Neill remarks. "Secondly, it was a different type of game than Kilkenny. I felt that we played better hurling against Kilkenny, we knew it was going to be a tough and tight affair with Tipperary as it always is.

"The positive of it actually showed a bit of true grit to actually come out to win it."

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By John Harrington

Galway manager, Shane O’Neill, paid tribute to match-winner Aidan Harte after his team’s stirring All-Ireland SHC quarter-final victory over Tipperary this afternoon.

It was the corner-back’s 66th minute goal that proved to be the decisive score, and he showed a lot of courage to go for it as he had previously missed a couple of other scoring opportunities.

“It was a fantastic finish,” said O’Neil. “I think he had three chances that he didn't convert, but he's played in midfield and half-forwards at underage.

“He had a particular job to do today and he did it exceptionally well. He just happened to find himself in that position and it was a brilliant finish.

“It was an epic encounter. Nothing less was expected when Galway and Tipp play. You've seen the last few championship matches there was only a point in it and again just a puck of a ball effectively in it again. Delighted now to have a crack at next week as well.”

Galway trailed Tipperary by six points early in the second-half but O’Neill never felt the game was slipping away from his team.

“Not particularly, no. I think there wasn't going to much of a panic. The wind is strong enough when you're out in the middle of the pitch. We knew that if we just kept the scoreboard ticking over that we'd be there or there abouts. 

“We felt that maybe we weren't as composed as we should have been in the first half but we were a lot more composed on the ball in the second half.”

Tipperary defender Cathal Barrett was red-carded on 52 minutes, and O’Neill admitted that his departure impacted the game as Joseph Cooney played the spare man role well.

“They normally do, but sometimes they go the other way. The way the game is gone with all the movement of forwards and backs and the whole lot, you saw Aidan Harte up in the full-forward line, it's just the way the game is gone.

“Sometimes that extra man can be nullified. I thought we were trying to get him on the ball and it worked out well.”

Galway advance to the All-Ireland semi-final where they will play O’Neill’s native Limerick next Sunday in Croke Park.

The big question is whether a third tough match in as many weekends will prove a step too far for this Galway team.

“It's about mental recovery more than anything else,” says O’Neill. “It'll be the third week on the trot which is tough. But the boys will be rearing to go again. 

“The scale of the challenge is massive. They're coming with a week off first of all so they have that advantage whereas we're three weeks on the trot.

“Limerick have probably been the best team over the last three years in the country and play an unbelievable style of hurling. They're a very difficult side to play against but the boys will only relish it.”

All-Ireland SHC Quarter-Final

GALWAY 3-23 TIPPERARY 2-24

By John Harrington at the LIT Gaelic Grounds

Aidan Harte was Galway’s unlikely hero as his 66th minute goal proved the key score of this pulsating All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Final.

It was a score worthy to win a game too as substitutes Jason Flynn and Adrian Tuohy did well to move the ball across the field to the defender who had drifted unmarked into space.

The corner-back could have taken a handy point, but instead he backed himself to go for goal and bounced a fiercely struck low shot into the right-hand corner of the net.

Tipperary were now trailing by one point and had been reduced to 14 men by the dismissal of defender Cathal Barrett for a second yellow card on 52 minutes, so they were in a very difficult position.

To their credit they battled right to the end and it was only when Daithi Burke claimed a high ball that landed into the Galway square deep in injury time that the Tribesmen could finally be sure of victory.

These two teams have a habit of going toe to toe and slugging it out whenever they meet, and it was Tipperary who landed the first haymaker of the match when Seamus Callanan goaled on four minutes.

Jason Forde hit a high hopeful ball across the 21 yard line under pressure and as Callanan collected it, his marker Daithí Burke slipped at the worst time possible from his point of view.

A predator like Callanan was always going to exploit a situation like that, and he drove towards goal and finished with typical aplomb.

Noel McGrath pointed a minute later and Tipperary were 1-2 to 0-2 to the good and entitled to be satisfied with how they started the game.

From there, though, Galway started to really get to grips with the contest, particularly around the middle third of the field, which was due in no small part to their ability to retain possession from puck-outs better than Tipperary could.

They were level by the 11th minute when Man of the Match Cathal Mannion turned Niall O’Meara and blasted to the net from a tight angle.

A second Galway goal came 10 minutes later when Conor Whelan danced past Ronan Maher and put through Brian Concannon who finished emphatically to push Galway 2-5 to 1-5 ahead.

But just when it looked like Galway were getting a grip on things, Tipperary produced their best 15 minutes of the championship coming up to half-time as they outscored Galway by 1-8 to 0-3.

Noel McGrath had really thundered into the match by now and would finish with four first half points to his name, while moving Brendan Maher into a sweeping role improved their defensive shape.

Alan Flynn and Michael Breen also took control of the midfield battle, hitting three points between them, and suddenly Tipperary were in a state of flow we hadn’t seen since the 2019 championship.

 

Aidan Harte of Galway celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Galway and Tipperary at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. 
Aidan Harte of Galway celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Galway and Tipperary at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. 

 

They’d already drawn level when Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher gave them a major fillip with their second goal of the match on 32 minutes.

Brendan Maher picked out Jake Morris with a nice angled delivery and his shot was parried by Éanna Murphy into the path of the onrushing Bonner.

The Lorrha man fluffed his initial attempt, but was fortunate to have a second bite of the cherry when Shane Cooney lost his footing and this time he made no mistake.

Further points from Breen and O’Meara meant the defending All-Ireland champions were in a decent position by half-time, leading by 2-13 to 2-9.

They stretched that advanced to six points early in the second-half, but Galway hung in there thanks to the accurate free-taking of Joe Canning and some quality point-taking from Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan.

Even before Barrett’s red-card it was the Tribesmen who were on the front foot as the once six-point gap was down to a more manageable two.

But in a match of fine margins having a numerical advantage for over 20 minutes was certainly a big factor in Galway’s favour.

They drew level by the 63rd minute when Canning followed up a sublime sideline cut with another free, but then Tipperary showed great heart to surge clear again thanks to a fine Willie Connors point and a huge Ronan Maher free.

The pivotal play of the game came when Paddy Cadell charged from the Tipperary defence but his attempted clearance was snuffed by tenacious Galway tackling.

From there Galway moved the ball across field and Harte surely got himself disbarred from the corner-back’s union for life with that brilliant finish for the vital goal.

Galway will be on an emotional high after dethroning the reigning champions in this manner.

Whether they can physically cope with a fresher Limerick team in next Sunday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final is less certain.

Scorers for Galway: Joe Canning 0-14 (12f, 1 sideline), Cathal Mannion 1-3, Brian Concannon 1-0, Aidan Harte 1-0, Conor Cooney 0-1, Conor Whelan 0-1, Sean Loftus 0-1, Jason Flynn 0-1, Joseph Cooney 0-1, Johnny Coen 0-1,

Scorers for Tipperary: Jason Forde 0-6, Seamus Callanan 1-2 (1f) (5f), Noel McGrath 0-4, Patrick Maher 1-0, Alan Flynn 0-2, Michael Breen 0-2, Dan McCormack 0-2, Niall O’Meara 0-1, Jake Morris 0-1, Barry Heffernan 0-1, Willie Connors 0-1, Ronan Maher 0-1 (f), Brian Hogan 0-1 (f)

GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; Aidan Harte, Daithí Burke, Shane Cooney; Fintan Burke, Gearoid McInerney, Joseph Cooney; Padraic Mannion, Johnny Coen; Joe Canning, Cathal Mannion, David Burke; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Brian Concannon. Subs: Jason Flynn for Johnny Coen (ht), Adrian Tuohey for David Burke (ht), Sean Loftus for Fintan Burke (58) , Evan Niland for Conor Cooney (58), Darren Morrissey for Shane Cooney (71)

TIPPERARY: Brian Hogan; Cathal Barrett, Ronan Maher, Brendan Maher; Barry Heffernan, Pádraic Maher, Niall O’Meara; Alan Flynn, Michael Breen; Dan McCormack, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher; Jason Forde, Seamus Callanan, Jake Morris. Subs: Willie Connors for Patrick Maher (50), John McGrath for Noel McGrath (53), Paddy Cadell for Niall O’Meara (58), Paul Flynn for Jason Forde (65), Mark Kehoe for Dan McCormack (73)

Ref: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)

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