By Brendan O’Brien, Croke Park
League champions, provincial champions, All-Ireland champions.
Not many counties have managed the full set in the one calendar year but this was all about the moment Galway captain David Burke trotted up the steps of the Hogan Stand just after five o’clock and raised the last bit of silverware high above his head.
“We waited 29 long years but finally Liam MacCarthy is coming back to the west,” the 27-year old roared in a voice already raw with emotion.
There was a mention for the recently departed Tony Keady, man of the match here 29 years ago when Galway last won the All-Ireland. And for former teammate Niall Donohue who passed away suddenly aged just 22 back in 2014.
This win was, said Burke, for all those who had sweated blood and tears for the cause down the years. For the people of Galway. Never dull at the best of times, the city of Tribes will be hopping to a considerably more exuberant beat all winter.
For Waterford, the wait goes on. That interminable wait.
They came close here, pinging balls down on top of the Galway goalmouth towards the end in a vain attempt to close that three-point gap. Three points: a mere hop and a chasm all at one for a county seeking fulfillment for the first time since 1959.
Waterford, playing in their first decider since the haunting that was their hammering to Kilkenny in 2008, would have known the value of a good start but any foundation they hoped for to get into the game was undone by a blistering Galway start.
The entire first quarter was a virtual blur of events. Referee Fergal Horan opted to use the whistle in a last-gasp capacity for much of it and, rightly or wrongly, it aided the flow. Minutes flew by in seconds.
The first four points were Galway’s, at least half of them emanating from bad, simple errors by a man in white as Waterford floundered to find their touch and their feet. ‘Not again, surely’, must have been the murmurs from their fans.
As predicted, Johnny Glynn was switched into full-forward for the Connacht side – and Leinster champions – but the damage wasn’t sourced from high balls into the square and the Ardrahan man would slip out the field before too long.
It didn’t matter in that opening spell but Waterford’s nerves were steadied at a crucial juncture when Michael Brick Walsh fed Kevin Moran who was running off his shoulder. Galway’s defence melted away like butter on toast and the Deise skipper’s goal took a giant bite out of the arrears.
A county exhaled as one.
Every one of the first five minutes had delivered a score but the pause in the sixth was fitting as it allowed the packed stadium to pay its respects to Keady who had worn the No.6 jersey with such pride when they last claimed Liam MacCarthy.
Galway continued to turn the screw. pushing the lead out to 0-9 to 1-2 as the first quarter slipped into the past. Five of their forwards and both midfielders would be on the scoreboard by the time the half-time whistle was sounded.
By then, though, Waterford had steadied the ship and not least because of one of the strangest goals ever seen here in September.
No-one was reaching for the panic button when Kieran Bennett lobbed in a ball that dropped in the Galway square but the tussle between his brother Shane and Adrian Tuohy did enough to distract Colm Callanan between the sticks and it ended up in the net.
Somehow, with that, Waterford were level. Shane Bennett limped off injured straight after but intriguing localised duels were going on in all corners of the field as Waterford began to get to grips with the task at hand.
Gearoid McInerney was keeping tabs on a quiet enough Austin Gleeson, Noel Connors was keeping a lid on Conor Whelan. Two potential genies trapped in a bottle although others were faring better.
Joe Canning, stationed at left-wing forward, had four points by the break, two of them from play. Kevin Moran had 1-1 and Jamie Barron was coming into his own at midfield for Waterford with a contribution of 0-2 by the break in play which Galway took a point to the good.
The pair continued to shadow each other through the entire third quarter with Waterford even taking the lead for the first time before being pegged back. Five times they drew level in that fifteen-minute spell in all.
If there was one moment that stood out from the rest it was probably the wide from Moran when the Munster side led by a point. The veteran had been in acres of space but shanked an easy opportunity and was made pay with Galway claiming the next three points on the spin.
In a game like this a spurt like that was tantamount to a deluge.
Waterford hit back with three of the next four scores but but they were fighting to keep their heads above water now rather than to reach the wall first with their fingertips and, at four down with five minutes to go there was an unavoidable sense that they would need another goal.
It never came. Galway’s day. After so, so many days.
Scorers for Galway: J Canning (0-9, 6 frees and 1 sideline); David Burke (0-4); C Cooney (0-3); C Mannion, J Cooney, N Burke and J Flynn all (0-2); J Coen and C Whelan (both 0-1).
Scorers for Waterford: (0-11, 8 frees); K Moran (1-1); K Bennett (1-0); J Barron (0-2); M Walsh, T Ryan and B O’Halloran (all 0-1);
Galway: C Callanan; A Tuohy, Daithi Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke; J Cooney, J Canning, J Glynn; C Whelan, C Cooney, C Mannion. Subs: N Burke for Glynn (43); J Flynn for C Mannion (55); S Maloney for David Burke (69).
Waterford: S O’Keeffe; S Fives, B Coughlan, N Connors; T De Burca, A Gleeson, Philip Mahony; J Barron, K Bennett; K Moran, Pauric Mahony, J Dillon; S Bennett, M Walsh, D Fives. Subs: M Shanahan for S Bennett (23); B O’Halloran or Dillon (50); T Ryan for Walsh (56): C Dunford for Barron (65); P Curran for K Bennett (65).
Referee:F Horan (Tipperary).