IT ultimately swung on the tale of two square balls.
Jack Canning’s at one end, when a goal was given to push Galway into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the second half. Another at the Hill 16 end a couple of minutes later when Robert Downey was in on the keeper under Brian Roche’s delivery; the green flag was initially raised before the score was cancelled.
Given the margin of defeat was two points, Cork have every reason to feel aggrieved.
It was a cruel way to lose and as the saying goes, you can repeat the Leaving Cert but you can’t repeat the minor. That’s particularly the case here as, with the grade dropping to U17 next year, none of these talented players will get another shot at the title.
A clutch of these young guns already have an All-Ireland medal in the bank after Cork landed the first U17 crown last month: Conor O’Callaghan, Eoin and Brian Roche, Aaron Walsh Barry, Daire Connery and subs Ronan Sheehan, Declan Hanlon and Colin O’Brien.
The rest can console themselves with the fact they won Cork’s first Munster since 2008 and enjoyed a summer of sizzling moments. It’s safe to say the demolition of Clare in the provincial decider and the Munster semi-final replay win over Tipp at a throbbing Páirc Uí Rinn will stay with them forever.
Many will progress to U21, where Cork should be extremely strong next year with Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon still available, while the select few will shine at senior.
Brian Turnbull certainly did his prospects no harm. After blitzing Dublin for 13 points, he struck 1-7 here, 1-4 from play. This despite carrying a hamstring injury that made him a genuine doubt to even start.
Evan Sheehan was also injured – and with a medial knee ligament issue visibly struggling at times – but stitched a blistering effort into the net and was fouled for a free. He’ll kick on again in the coming years.
Liam O’Shea and Conor O’Callaghan were the two other standout performers across the hour and a bit, but too few of the big guns were at their peak. O’Shea (pictured) was fouled for a free, set up 1-1 and landed 0-3 himself. The Lisgoold man’s vision and movement set him apart.
It’ll be interesting to track his progress.
O’Callaghan, Dromtarriffe, not a hurling stronghold, picked up a lot of breaks at centre-back. If anything his pace and aggression was missed from corner-back. Cork's full-back line was under pressure at times.
Daire Connery hurled the world of ball in the first half, landing a point off his left on the back foot, but didn’t make the same impression on the restart. Where in other games he’d landed a few monster frees he didn’t here.
Now that was probably down to the refeering too. Cork only managed three from frees to Galway’s seven which said it all. By the same token, they probably didn’t play well enough in the second half to say they were robbed.
Even though sub Barry Murphy was a bundle of energy on his introduction, Galway had an edge in terms of physicality in the middle third. Murphy was lively but Cork only used two subs and probably needed to be bolder in their switches.
Cork ceded momentum after the break and while they finished powerfully, forcing turnovers to nab three points in a row before Craig Hanifin came close to goaling, they were chasing Galway at that juncture. There shot a pair of bad wides before half-time and it was the same in the five minutes of injury time in the finale.
If Turnbull lit up the Cork attack, Seán Blanche and Canning shared 2-7 from play, while Donal Mannion was always a threat up top as well. If Cork squandered a few goal chances so too did the Tribe.
The defeat marks the end of Denis Ring’s latest tenure as bainisteoir and it’s been a decent four years. Selectors John Dwyer, Liam Martin, John Mortell and Fergus Ryan, and the extended backroom deserve credit too.
They didn’t always get the results they deserved, especially back in 2015 when they’d a squad as good as this one, but the run to the All-Ireland has been a significant factor in the hurling buzz on Leeside. Fair play.
Climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand yesterday would have franked the Rebel resurgence, but make no mistake, there are more trophies to come over the next few years across the board.