Canning leads way as Galway triumph
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 0-17 Allianz NHL Division 1a
A first opening-round league defeat of the 21st century for Kilkenny but Brian Cody seemed scarcely exercised by such arithmetic.
"Overall not too bad," figured Cody at the end of a match that threatened so much in a whirlwind first half but deflated somewhat after the break.
Not since 1999 and his first league match against Cork have Kilkenny lost on opening day under Cody's stewardship, a remarkable record of consistency.
It's traditionally a day for them to lay down firm markers for the rest of the season, and even in defeat here they did enough in the second half to steal some of the glory Galway might have siphoned off such a victory.
Three missed frees, two from Richie Hogan and another from Richie Power, from scorable positions in the second half ultimately made the difference.
Three first-half goals, all created from distance with laser precision by Joe Canning, gave Galway a cushion they depended upon too much as the game wore on. Significantly, both managers used the word "battle" in their post-match summations, and this was what it effectively boiled down to.
Galway didn't observe the loose protocol of forming a guard of honour and clapping the All-Ireland champions out on to Pearse Stadium and didn't offer red-carpet treatment for their visitors on the field either.
The idea that this would be a gentle introduction to the 2013 season for last year's All-Ireland final protagonists was extinguished from the very first ball.
"It was a typical first league match really," acknowledged Galway manager Anthony Cunningham. "A lot of cobwebs probably on both sides, but we found it very difficult to pull away when we were in pole position a few times and our hurling was rusty. I suppose that performance won't see us getting on past the next day – but we battled hard, that would be the big thing."
Galway had put themselves in a strong position in the first quarter, with goals from Davy Glennon and Niall Healy exposing rare chinks in the armour of some of Kilkenny's defenders.
On 13 minutes, Canning, who had started at full-forward but used the liberty of Galway's roaming licence afforded to their attackers to quickly site himself at left half-forward, aimed for Johnny Glynn but found Glennon behind the cover instead and he finished superbly.
Two minutes later, Healy shook off Jackie Tyrrell and fired past Eoin Murphy for a second goal and a 2-3 to 0-3 lead against the wind.
"I'd be disappointed. They were goals we shouldn't be conceding," cautioned Cody.
But Galway couldn't build on it sufficiently to put themselves out of sight despite a third goal on 32 minutes, again superbly crafted by Canning's cross-field delivery to Damien Hayes, who shook off Tommy Walsh and then hopped off Tyrrell before applying a wonderful finish.
Yet the home side only led by 3-4 to 0-10 at the break, Power finding his stride from midfield to whip over two points from play as Iarla Tannian was withdrawn early.
"I suppose it kind of put the lads in a false position because the goals were big scores at the time but, at the same time, we only went in at the break with four points scored," observed Galway coach Mattie Kenny.
"If you'd eight or nine points to go along with the three goals, then it would have been something you could build on. But we knew, only having four points scored, Kilkenny were really in the game. It finished up three points in it, so we actually only drew the second half (0-7 apiece)."
Hogan's fourth pointed free just after the restart cut further into Galway's cushion and when substitute Tadhg Haran set up Hayes for a 46th-minute score, it was Galway's first point for 27 minutes and their first from play from a starting forward.
It required aggressive defence from Galway to stay in front, with Fergal Moore and Niall Donoghue particularly prominent and Joseph Cooney putting in another good afternoon in the No 6 shirt.
Kilkenny put the concession of the goals behind them, with JJ Delaney at full-back (wearing the No 29 shirt though Cody denied afterwards that the No 3 shirt had been retired for the day in honour of Noel Hickey), Walsh and Paul Murphy all stepping up.
Power and Hogan also picked it up again after the break, but when Glennon fired over a 51st-minute free Galway stretched five points clear again, 3-8 to 0-12. They couldn't maintain that progress, however, and had their backs to the wall for much of the last 10 minutes.
"We'd be happy with some of the new players that we had in as well, Davy Glennon, Joseph Cooney," said Cunningham. "It's about finding players as well in the league, and we'd be happy from that perspective. But we'll have to knuckle down and concentrate on Clare in two weeks."
Man of the Match: J Canning (Galway)
Scorers – Galway: J Canning 0-6 (5f, 1 '65'), D Hayes, D Glennon 1-1 each, N Healy 1-0, J Cooney, D Collins, A Harte 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Power 0-8 (5f, 1 '65'), R Hogan 0-4f, A Fogarty 0-2, L Ryan, E Larkin, T Walsh 0-1 each.
Galway – F Flannery 7; F Moore 8, K Hynes 7, J Coen 7; D Collins 7, J Cooney 7, N Donoghue 8; I Tannian 4, A Harte 6; D Hayes 7, N Burke 6, J Glynn 6, N Healy 6, J Canning 8, D Glennon 7. Subs: T Haran 6 for Tannian (31), B Flaherty 5 for Healy (52), P Brehony for N Burke (67).
Kilkenny – E Murphy 7; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 8, J Tyrrell 7; T Walsh 7, K Joyce 7, C Fogarty 6; L Ryan 6, R Power 8; C Fennelly 7, M Ruth 6, E Larkin 7; T Breen 5, R Hogan 7, A Fogarty 7. Sub: M Kelly for Breen (48).
Ref – D Kirwan (Cork)