Cruel to see Callanan lose

GAABy Roy Curtis
A clearly dejected Seamus Callanan after the final whistle
A clearly dejected Seamus Callanan after the final whistle

SEAMIE Callanan collapsed in a crumpled heap, the percussive sound waves from that thunderous boom of Western elation like a haymaker to his soul.

Callanan lay prone on his spine deep in enemy territory, the hurl he had deployed like a ballistic missile now decommissioned, discarded, just a worthless piece of timber unable to deflect the damburst of doom.

About the fallen Tipp slugger, a jubilant volcano spat out the lava of Galway elation, spewed red-hot delirium into the evening sky.

Anthony Cunningham’s troops whooped and hugged, buck-leapt and capered, the euphoria and adrenalin that comes with surviving a game as wild, beautiful and intoxicating as the Connemara shoreline kidnapping their senses.

It was a gorgeous Mardi Gras, as uplifting an August fiesta as Croke Park has known, the old bear-pit surrendering to the full-force of hurling’s seductive powers, the audience mesmerised by summer’s most thrilling show.

A contest for the ages, a thunderbolt of brilliance from the heavens had reached its breathless conclusion; the coltish exuberance of Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan, Jason Flynn and Shane Moloney had won the day.

And all the light had gone from Tipperary’s world.

So, though this was Galway’s glory, the eyes were drawn to the tormented, broken shape with the figure 14 on his blue and gold uniform.

That Callanan was to be condemned to a losing dressing room seemed an unspeakable cruelty.

A winged chariot swimming through the air, he had delivered the performance of a lifetime: His tally of 3-9, included 3-4 from play; so many Tipp men had capsized, yet Callanan had almost rescued them, so nearly righted the ship.

For 70 minutes he had been unstoppable, for most of it inflicting medieval torture on Padraig Mannion. 

That Anthony Cunningham stood idly by – neither switching Mannion nor introducing a sweeper – suggested some masochistic streak.

Eventually as the distress signals from Mannion became something simply impossible to ignore any longer, John Hanbury was sent on Callanan’s trail; he might as well have been impaled on a roasting spit.   

Yet the currency of Callanan’s brilliance was now worthless, unable to buy him an escape from the canyon of despair in which he was now entombed.

He lay like a corpse, his face concealed beneath his mustard helmet but his anguish as visible as the Davin Stand below which he sprawled.

It was the very man who he had tormented who came to his rescue.

Seeing the lone figure at the edge of the square, Padraig Mannion broke from the Galway hooley; he walked to Callanan like a slightly unsure sympathiser approaching the chief mourner after a funeral mass.

Mannion helped Callanan from the ground, he spoke a few words and then he wrapped the Tipp man in a great hug.

It was the embrace of two prize-fighters at the end of a bruising battle.

From the opening bell – or at least the first of his hat-trick of green flags after 38 seconds - Callanan had landed all the significant Tipp punches; the Gods were unspeakably sadistic in leaving him dazed on the canvas.

Yet Galway – with David Burke and Andrew Smith seizing the day in midfield, Iarla Tannian erupting into a second half force of nature, and their battalion of young exuberant forwards delivering scores as if from a tap – were deserving winners.

Cunningham had advised Brian Cody after the Leinster final that their story would have a second September chapter.  

Their ability to thrive under the fiercest possible pressure, their refusal to buckle no matter how frequently Callanan his hurl like the Grim Reaper’s scythe, suggest the All-Ireland will be no Kilkenny lap of honour.

Joe Canning again swayed between wonder and woe, a delicious sideline cut and the pinpoint assists for Moloney’s winning point among the impressive counterbalances to a missed penalty and sometimes faulty radar.

But if there remains no show like a Joe show, for the second time in a month his support cast emerged as the headline act.

In a facsimile of their freestyle rout of Cork, Cathal Mannion, Whelan and Flynn were again fearless, precise gunslingers.

The precocious trio exhibit a purple-heart valour to match their maroon uniform.

Joining the trio of audacious, unafraid cool-hands was the former minor captain Moloney.

A first attempt at immortality skewed so badly off his hurl it didn’t even go wide; undaunted he returned for more.

And when Canning lasered a perfect diagonal pass, Moloney sensed his marker Conor O’Brien slipping; he steadied himself, looked at the Hill 16 posts, picked his spot and pulled the trigger. Bull’s-eye.

Vesuvius erupted; a sonic boom swept across the coliseum.

And, perhaps 120 yards from a fist-pumping Moloney, Callanan sagged, stumbled and finally collapsed, the life cruelly drained from his summer, his season now a corpse on a mortuary slab.

Even an autopsy might not conclusively determine if the towering full-forward was floored by Galway or is merely the latest victim of a killing swat from the pitiless, mocking gods.