Dublin’s Sean Bulger, right, and Liam Silke of Galway in action on Saturday evening at Croke Park. Inpho/James Crombie

Galway rally knocks out Dubs

Galway 0-17; Dublin 0-16

The West Awake! Galway has been the only team west of the Shannon to bring Sam back across the  big river since Mayo last achieved it in 1951.

So following this huge victory over reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening, the talk was that Padraic Joyce could become one of the select few who have won All Ireland SF championships as player and manager.

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He will face Donegal in the upcoming All-Ireland semi-final and will feel this indeed could be their year, even if he accepted they enjoyed the way they won against Dublin almost as if it was an endgame in itself.

One thing for sure, the other remaining teams involved Kerry, Donegal and Armagh will all feel their own chances of outright victory have gone up several notches in the knowledge that the Dublin dragon won’t have to be slayed if they are to reach their sporting Shangri-la this season.

For a team caught napping to allow Armagh secure a draw when they were five points ahead and similarly looked unimpressive at home to Monaghan in the last round of the All-Ireland Group series, they managed to hide their form under a bushel here again in Croke Park until the second half. They went in four behind at the break and really at that stage you could only see one outcome - a Dublin victory.

Still trailing by three with an hour elapsed on the clock, they produced a golden quarter hour of almost perfect football to not just reach parity with arguably the greatest squad ever to play the game but shot two in front thanks to a great score by Johnny Heaney and  supersub Tomo Culhane.

This asked a big question of the Dubs, and Con O’Callaghan landed a difficult free to reduce the margin to the minimum. He actually had a chance to force extra-time but unusually for him, his shot for a score skewed well wide - much to the relief of the large and vocal Galway support.

You only had to look at the faces of the maroon fans, players and management to see what a first championship victory over Dublin at this level in 90 years meant to them. They were beside themselves with sheer delight.

Conversely, the Dubs were crestfallen at the immediate disappointment but also in the knowledge that we are unlikely to see such great footballing heroes as  Stephen Cluxton, Mick Fitzsimons, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey and possibly a few more in the blue jersey again.

Even Manager Dessie Farrell referred to such a probability when declaring after the game: “It could be an end of an era for some of those Dublin players. I’m not going to pre-empt anything, but if it is, they have been wonderful servants and they died with their boots on. We’ll all take stock and see where we are at.”

He went on: “It was a disappointing finish to the season, but there is some room for hope and optimism for what lies in the future, whoever may be involved at that point in time. We'll reflect on things and see where we are and I’m sure many of the players will have a think about their own futures as well,” he stressed.

Galway had heroes aplenty in this joust, none more so than man of the match Cillian McDaid who scored three great points in an elevated second-half performance that was the difference between the teams in the end. Likewise the injured Shane Walsh was heroic in playing through the pain buried for 65 minutes during which he was his side’s scorer-in-chief with seven points - a big haul on a day when scores were at a premium. We must also single out Dylan McHugh for his showing in a game where Galway showed great tenacity to hand in there when Dublin were playing in their pomp and then had the ability to rise again and show their own class when it mattered most down the finishing straight.

Joyce and indeed all of Galway will keep their fingers crossed that Kilmacud Crokes clubman Walsh will be able to overcome the leg injury in time to take his place the weekend after next in the semi-final.

He was the man who kept them in the game by landing vital scores in the first half after which they turned over 0-11 to 0-7 in arrears. One of his points off his left foot when he wrong-footed his marker John Small in executing, had the fans out of their seats with how it was delivered. By the time he left the field limping, he had scored three points from play among the seven he landed for his team - a good day’s work in any language.

Otherwise in this moiety, the relentless Dublin pressure brought excellent scores from the likes of  giant midfielder Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, Sean Bugler and Cormac Costello while inside O’Callaghan was causing the full-back line all sorts of headaches with his constant movement.

 It was Walsh who raised Galway hopes by pouncing on a rare Cluxton faux-pas from a kick out to record his sixth score of the day with eight minutes gone in the second half.

McDaid then  started to put his shoulder to the pump big-time as his brace of points lifted the Galway boat even higher in the water. And when the ageless Paul Conroy weighed in with another, suddenly they had found a pocket of wind that had them alongside the Dublin vessel, albeit a diminishing point in arrears.

Dublin’s great strength at this stage in a match has been the ability to sail on and it looked as if they too had trapped  a gale in their sails when   Small and O'Callaghan pushed their lead back out to three. With Walsh about to limp off, you could be sure you knew where a betting person would put their money on.

McDaid was back in his All-Star form at this stage and kept driving at the Dublin defense to help find scores from Cein Darcy and the impressive McHugh.

With the scores level Johnny Heaney got on the scoresheet and Tomo quickly followed suit with a score that in hindsight was the one to get Galway over the line despite O’Callaghan’s attempt to find parity.

A game of real drama and one that threw the championship right into the melting pot for the remaining games in the series.

Galway: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Fitzgerald, J Glynn; D McHugh (0-1), L Silke, S Mulkerrin; P Conroy (0-1), S Kelly; M Tierney (0-1m), J Maher (0-1), C McDaid (0-3); R Finnerty, D Comer, S Walsh (0-7, 0-4fs) Subs: C Darcy (0-1) for Kelly (22), LÓ Conghaile for Finnerty (47), J Heaney (0-1) for Tierney (54), C Hernon for Fitzgerald (60), T Culhane (0-1) for Walsh (65).

Dublin: S Cluxton; E Murchan, S MacMahon, M Fitzsimons; J Small (0-1m), B Howard, J McCaffrey; B Fenton (0-1), J McCarthy; NScully, S Bugler (0-2), C Kilkenny (0-2); P Mannion (0-1), C O'Callaghan (0-4, 0-2ms, 0-1f), C Costello (0-4, 0-2fs, 0-1 45) Subs: C Basquel for Mannion (48), R McGarry (0-1) for Scully (54), T Lahiff for McCaffrey (59), P Small for Costello (66), L O'Dell for Murchan (72).

Ref: S Hurson (Tyrone).