THE hammering Galway handed out to All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny, in the Leinster final was viewed as progress by the county, and wasn’t seen as anything deeper, anything more meaningful.
Ever smiling, ever pleasant Galway selector, Tom Helebert, said the 10-point win that July afternoon was a most welcome step in the development of a new team, but in terms of the rest of the season it wasn’t seen as a game changer.
“The Leinster final was one game in a series of games,” the Galway official told the ’People. “For us it was a continuance of progress in terms of what we were chasing in our performances.”
From a Kilkenny perspective, he ventured, a lot was made of the Dublin fixture two weeks earlier. That failed to ignite from a Dublin perspective.
“Maybe, perhaps, that interfered with the judgement of the day. I am not saying it did or didn’t. Perhaps it did,” the former star added.
“Certainly we didn’t have anything to suggest from the Kilkenny perspective that we were going to trouble Kilkenny significantly. We turned up, good and ready.
“There was a great enthusiasm within the group to perform. We brought a lot of energy, speedy, a lot of movement to Croke Park. I think by half-time it was a matter of us having our noses sufficiently in front, and Kilkenny coming out in the second half and having a cut at us.
“Kilkenny won the second half hands down. For us that was a very important day in terms of how we progress with this team. The world would be very boring if we didn’t make a bit of progress.
“That is what we are trying to do game after game, to make continuous progress. Continue to grow. Continue to build. Continue to encourage the better parts of our game and try and diminish the weaker parts and bring this team somewhere down the line.”
That stunning show from the Tribe wasn’t lost, because it was followed by another impressive performance in the defeat of Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Now Galway are on the verge of bridging the 24-year gap to their last MacCarthy Cup success in 1988.
Helebert admitted that these were great times in Galway. Getting to the final has given the locality, the county, a huge lift. They had an open night for children recently, and over 2,500 youngsters turned out to meet the hurlers.
“There was a fantastic buzz,” the team official revealed. “It was great for the players, great for the kids. What a great recruitment process for the future. An appearance in the final invigorates everyone.”
The fun part! But, Mr Helebert, added, you have to draw a line and separate the occasion from the game.
“We are in the business end of things now,” he said when he expanded on the thinking. “There is a huge responsibility to getting to an All-Ireland final. We have to make sure we turn up right on the day.
A reference point
“The All-Ireland final is a big occasion. We look at the Kilkenny teams of the past few years. They are a fantastic reference point for the way to go about hurling business. You just have to admire the way they deal with the occasion and always manage to find a performance.
“Kilkenny always bring a performance to Croke Park. There is hardly a day you could recall when Kilkenny didn’t perform. That is back to the calmness of how you manage the situation and keep the players focussed. That is something we aspire to. We want to make sure our lads are fully clued in and that they turn up right.”
Kilkenny, he said, were a team that could get into your head if you let it happen. They were a very strong team psychologically.
“They are able to understand the opposition; to itemise and break down your weaknesses and frailties,” he offered. “That is part and parcel of what they bring to the game.”
Galway, he insisted, had buried themselves in their preparations in a bid to make sure they didn’t under perform in the semi-final against Cork after what they did to Kilkenny.
“We were pleased with the manner of the outcome, in that we didn’t panic,” he said of a battle between two young sides. “We held our nerve and got over the line. That was a big learning experience for the boys.
“It is all adapting and reaffirming to yourself that you are able to perform at this level,” he added. “Too many players have gone to Croke Park and not performed and regretted it.
“As I often say, the result is a consequence of the input. How you perform defines what happens. That is why the Cork game was important for us. The lads didn’t stand back when the pressure was at its highest. Hopefully that lesson won’t be lost on Sunday.”