This All-Ireland Final brought one of the greatest teams ever to play, hurling up against a team led by one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Whereas the names of this Kilkenny group – Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Richie Hogan, Brian Hogan, TJ Reid, Eoin Larkin and, of course, Henry Shefflin – will ring down in the history of hurling; one name stands out above all others in the Galway team: Joe Canning.
Due to his exploits from an early age, Joe Canning was already known by hurling people across Ireland from the mid-200s, but he really announced himself when he almost beat Cork by himself in July 2008. In a performance for the ages, Canning scored 2.12 of Galway’s 2.15, but it wasn’t enough to beat the All-Ireland champions of 2004 & 2005. Joe was 19 at the time.
A modern-day Cú Chulainn, the next few years Joe showed his talents again and again as he racked up enormous scores for club, college, and county. He won club accolades (4 Club All-Irelands), the Fitzgibbon Trophy (2007 with Limerick IT), and personal rewards including All-Stars and the Young Hurler of the Year Award in 2008 he hadn’t yet had the chance to face off in an All-Ireland Final.
On the other hand, Kilkenny was amid a period of almost total domination. After putting together four All-Irelands in a row from 2006 to 2009, a young and hungry Tipperary got over them with a Lar Corbett hat-trick in 2010, and it looked as if there would be a changing of the guard. However, the thought of a new empire arising was squashed after Kilkenny defeated them by a 4-point margin in 2011 before following it up with a devastating 18-point win in the 2012 All-Ireland Semi-Final (4.24 to 1.15). However, there were some chinks in Kilkenny’s armour.
The Leinster Final: July 8th, 2012
The two teams (Galway and Kilkenny) met in the Leinster Final of 2012, and it was fully expected that the Kilkenny machine would roll on. Kilkenny had not been threatened in the Leinster Championship for years and had won 11 Leinster titles out of 12 since the year 2000, with only Wexford able to get over them in 2004. The hope was that Galway would be able to challenge them and put up a decent showing. However, even this seemed like a “fool’s hope” as only 22,000 people turned up to Croke park for it. No one really thought Galway could beat this Kilkenny machine with the RTÉ verdict stating: „Kilkenny’s vice-like grip on the Leinster title is set to remain as tight as ever, unless Galway can produce something extraordinary at Croke Park today“. What came next was extraordinary.
I was in Dublin that day. I cannot remember why… I think it was a careers‘ fair – I am pretty confident it was. I was at my godfather’s house, and him being a Kerryman meant he wasn’t much into hurling. My train for Cork was departing soon, but we could at least catch the start of the match. The thought of seeing Kilkenny win another trophy was not a pleasant one. However, the script was thrown out the window as Galway put together a lightning start – Joe Canning scored a goal after three minutes. After 18 minutes, Galway led by 1.06 to 0.00. Kilkenny losing? Kilkenny scoreless? This was extraordinary! After 20 minutes, Kilkenny scored their first point through King Henry Shefflin… grand, it’s a long way back, but surely normal service resumed… Not at all! Galway replied with a second goal – this time from David Burke. It was now 2.08 to 0.01. What was this? At half-time, Galway led 2.12 to 0.04.
Around half-time, I was given a lift to Heuston Station for my train, but I decided to wait there and take the next one. I wasn’t the only one to make that decision, as this was a match that stopped the country. Heuston Station was packed that day with people crowding around the television. Nobody wanted to miss this, and travel plans could wait! It was truly extraordinary. Kilkenny had delivered a lot of hefty defeats to teams in their time of dominance, and to see them this far behind was unbelievable. In fairness, they scored two goals in the second half – through Henry Shefflin and Richie Hogan – and battled back to some degree. The final score was 2.21 to 2.11. The Kilkenny Empire wasn’t gone, but this was a defeat they wouldn’t forget in a hurry. It looked like it was Galway and Joe Canning’s time.
The Road to the Final
Three weeks later, Kilkenny returned to action a wounded animal with a quarter-final against Limerick. Limerick had lost to Tipperary earlier in the Championship before coming back to qualify for the quarter-final by beating Laois, Antrim and Clare. Limerick roared into a lead through a goal from David Breen in the 12th minute, and they put it up to the All-Ireland champions. Any hopes of Kilkenny going out were put to bed through a brace of goals by Henry Shefflin and green flags from Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly. Fogarty and Fennelly’s goals coming within a minute of each other, and they put an end to Limerick’s hopes. In the end, Kilkenny won by a margin of 4.16 to Limerick 1.16.
In the All-Ireland semi-final, Kilkenny showed that they were back to their best. They came up against a Tipperary team that included Brendan Cummins, Brendan Maher, Pádraig Maher, Lar Corbett and Noel McGrath, among others. Tipperary were Munster Champions that year, having beaten Limerick, Cork and Waterford on their way to victory.
At half-time, Tipp was ahead by one point by a score of 1.10 to 1.09, and it looked as if the momentum was with them, having scored 1.03 without reply towards the conclusion of the half. However, this was misleading, and in the second half, Kilkenny turned up the heat. In the 46th minute, a goal went in, scored by Aidan Fogarty, and from here, Kilkenny never looked back. Eoin Larkin scored a goal soon afterwards and then proceeded to set up TJ Reid for another. They drove the stake into Tipperary and came out with an 18 point victory to set them up for the Final.
Galway’s path to the Final was not as exciting as they came up against Cork in the semi-final. Cork had defeated Offaly, Wexford and Waterford to get to the semi-final but couldn’t get past Galway. Galway was not as impressive in this match compared to the Leinster Final, but they put in a mature performance to put Cork aside. Damien Hayes and Joe Canning both scored four points from play, with Canning scoring another seven points from placed balls. That Cork team would reach the All-Ireland Final the following year, but for now, Galway was the better team and progressed to the final on a score of 0.22 to 0.17.
The All-Ireland Final – The Match
Kilkenny scored the first point of the match through a Henry Shefflin free, and it took Galway until past the 7th minute to finally get on the scoresheet through a point by the industrious midfielder Andy Smith. However, from there, the first half tilted in Galway’s favour as Joe Canning scored a hugely impressive goal, driving past three or four Kilkenny players before planting it past David Herity in the Kilkenny net. Canning would contribute a couple of points in the first half – mostly from placed balls – but also missed a couple of frees and a chance from play in which he sold JJ Delaney a dummy in the build-up.
The Galway backline was able to keep the Kilkenny forwards quiet for most of the first half, as the Cats didn’t muster up a proper goal chance in the first half beyond a Henry Shefflin 21 metre free. King Henry, however, did score four points from placed balls A promising first half put Galway in a great position going in at halftime as they lead by a score of 1.09 to 0.07 – a five-point lead.
The second half started with another Henry Shefflin point from a free but Galway responded through a Niall Burke point. Galway had the chances to go further ahead but hit a couple of shots wide including a free from Canning – who by this stage was playing out around midfield. By this stage of the match, it was clear that Kilkenny were eating into Galway’s lead. Points from Richie Power, TJ Reid and Shefflin ensured that they were still in the reckoning. In the backline, Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell and the rest of the Kilkenny defence were starting to get on top – keeping Galway scoreless for over 10 minutes following Burke’s point.
Points from Aidan Fogarty and Shefflin put the teams level at the 50th minute mark. Shefflin contributed another free to put them a point ahead, and just as it looked as if Galway had completely disappeared from the match, Niall Burke scored a cracking goal. It was now 2:10 to 0:14.
The defences from both sides impressed in a tough and dogged match. As the teams came closer to the finish line, few clear chances were given away to either team. In the 59th minute, clever play by Shefflin split open the Galway defence and gave Colin Fennelly a clear goal chance but a brilliant save by James Skehill saved the Tribesmen. However, he did give away a free in the process which Shefflin pointed. At this point in the second half, Galway had only scored one goal and one point in almost half an hour but Canning scored two quick points to put them back ahead. These scores were brought back by a free from Shefflin.
In the 67th minute, James Skehill came out quite recklessly from the Galway goal to close down Eoin Larkin, and gave away a penalty in the process. From the penalty, Shefflin scored his 12th point of the match to put the Cats ahead by a point. It looked as if they would get over the line and win their 34th All Ireland but a late, late Joe Canning free leveled the match. By the end of the final, Canning had scored 1 goal and 9 points. It finished a draw. This was the first drawn All-Ireland Hurling Final since 1959, and the teams had to come back three weeks later for the replay.
Kilkenny won the replay by 11 points with a score of 3.22 to 3.11. For this match, Brian Cody had a secret weapon as he launched „Big“ Walter Walsh who had not featured in the first match. Walsh gave a „Man of the Match“ performance with a return of 1 goal and three points from play. Shefflin, Richie Hogan and Richie Power also featured prominently on the scoreboard as they saw off the Tribesmen.
The first match was Galway’s chance, as they had built a very solid foundation in the first half before fading in the second 35 minutes. Kilkenny would go on to win 2 of the next three All-Irelands by beating Tipperary in 2014 and Galway again in 2015. What was also unusual was that the next two All Ireland Finals also ended in draws that needed to be resolved by replays. Cork v Clare in 2013 and Kilkenny v Tipperary in 2014 could not be decided in 70 minutes. Since defeating Galway in 2015, Kilkenny has not won the Senior All Ireland Hurling Championship.
It took this Galway team a couple more years before they finally got their hands on the coveted Liam McCarthy Cup. They did it in 2017 by beating Waterford in the Final (0.26 to 2.17) and won their first senior All Ireland Hurling title since 1988. As Joe Canning retired earlier this year (2021) it looks like this will be his only Liam McCarthy (at this point in September 2021, I’m not going to rule him out coming back to win once more!) and for a player of his talent and commitment, it is a shame that he has only one medal in his pocket. They reached the final again in 2018 but lost out to Limerick by one point (2.18 to 3.16) – Joe contributed 1 goal and 10 points to their total that day.
Although this match was an intense All-Ireland Final, I chose to write about this particular match because of its link to Germany for me. This match took place in September 2012, and it was right at the start of a year that would change everything for me. This was the first All-Ireland Final that I watched outside of Ireland – and that really was something entirely new for me, as I usually would be either (hopefully) in Croke Park (if Cork were playing) or at home with my family watching it. However, this time I was in O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in Frankfurt with people from all over the world: the USA, England, France, Finland, and South Korea, to name some of the nationalities there. These people would become my friends and family over the course of this Erasmus year.
This trip to watch the All-Ireland Hurling Final was one of the first unofficial Erasmus “events”. I hadn’t really intended for it to be, as I was always going to watch the match anyway; however, what else would Erasmus students do on a Sunday in Germany? I asked a few people if they wanted to come along and watch it, they agreed to do it and brought new-found friends with them. Getting people to come out to an Irish pub felt like an obligation as an Irish Erasmus student. Among the crew was my fellow UCC student, Shauna, who is a serious camogie player with a proper trophy cabinet to back it up! We suddenly had a group of twenty going watching Ger Loughnane on the big screen with only Shauna and I really understanding what was going on.
Although GAA did not really feature in my Erasmus Year – there is no team in Marburg – it did give me a connection to home, and helped me settle in in a most unusual way. My very first day in Erasmusland involved being in a room full of people of all nationalities, and I only knew two people there… It was the first Monday in September (03.09.2012), and I remember it being a shock to the senses… all these people, all these nationalities… where do you even start to make connections? Suddenly, the call went out – I thought I’d misheard it… „Did you see the Mayo Dublin match yesterday?“. I turned around to see one of the students allocated to be a „team leader“ for the Erasmus students looking at me. It turned out his name was Andrew, and he was from Antrim – he was a Master’s student in Philipps-Universität Marburg and enjoyed helping out the Erasmus/Exchange crew… He found out I was Irish and thought he’d settle me down in the most Irish way of all… GAA matches! From that moment on, I was genuinely ready to go with the year ahead!
It is now almost 10 years later, and I can’t remember what my fellow Erasmus students thought of this mad Irish experience and our native games. I don’t think any of them came out for the replayed match or the Gaelic Football All-Ireland Final (I was in Frankfurt pretty much every Sunday for a month that September), so maybe they weren’t as impressed as I hoped they’d be… maybe they didn’t have the spare time to go back to Frankfurt – Erasmus was filled with plenty of opportunities after all! That year was filled with so many travels and adventures that I’m sure they don’t remember it now. However, I most definitely do.
The one regret I have from that year is that I didn’t keep a proper written record of it at the time. It’s nice to look at photos and have memories, but I would love to know what I was thinking of at that moment/on that day. But life moves on; that is the one inevitability of the whole journey. I can’t tell you what they thought of it but what I do know is that it was a starting point in a year that was the beginning of the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be living in Germany and playing with the Cologne Celtics now if it hadn’t been for that year. That September Sunday in Frankfurt, watching this brilliant match between giants of our native sports was one of the real beginnings of the whole Erasmus adventure. The rest is history.