Galway find sharp edge to skin cats
A day for Galway to cherish, for Kilkenny to forget, and for everybody else to reflect on the highly unusual sequence of events that unfolded at Pearse Stadium yesterday.
When last did Galway recover from a nine-point deficit against Kilkenny? When last did Kilkenny suffer an 18-point turnaround? What lay behind all the turbulence and will it have any relevance later in the season?
Those were the statistical and analytical questions raised by a remarkable game but, for now, let's content ourselves with trying to fit some context around a strange contest which, right from the start, showed itself to be utterly independent of any preconceived ideas of how the game would unfold.
It certainly didn't conform to any norms as it wound its way through 70 fascinating minutes in which fortunes fluctuated wildly before settling in Galway's favour.
Galway had been hit for 2-3 in the opening four minutes before they carefully re-calibrated themselves and launched a spirited revival package.
They outscored Kilkenny by 4-11 to 0-5 between the 11th and 52nd minutes, then conceded 1-3 over the following period to leave themselves carrying a three-point deficit into the final eight minutes.
It was cut to two points with four minutes remaining, but late points by Ger Farragher -- his eighth of the day -- and Aongus Callanan ensured a Galway victory which appeared utterly improbably after their early freeze.
Eoin Larkin pointed after just 20 seconds; Michael Fennelly scored a goal on 90 seconds; Eddie Brennan added a second just before the two-minute mark; Richie Hogan tapped over a point in the third minute before Larkin notched his second point.
Galway had scarcely got hand or hurley on the ball as Kilkenny blitzed them, and when Farragher drove a '65' wide in the sixth minute it really did look as if Kilkenny were headed for an unbelievably easy win.
"It was the start from hell and when you're playing a team of the calibre, experience and proven ability of Kilkenny, it's not an easy stranglehold to break. You look out and think, 'how can Galway get back into this game?'," said manager John McIntyre.
The answer lay in patience, an injection of power and an unyielding determination to make something significant happen. Once Galway realised that the Kilkenny full-back line certainly wasn't the most secure ever sent west, the confidence tanks began to fill.
It quickly became evident that Galway full-forward Iarla Tannian was heading for a good day and, with Joe Gantley and Callanan providing enterprise on his flanks, the pressure began to build on the Kilkenny full-back line and new goalkeeper Colin McGrath.
Gantley took a pass from Tannian to score Galway's first goal in the 11th minute and, from there on, the initiative rested solely with the home side all the way to half-time and again on the restart.
Points by Hogan and Fennelly were all Kilkenny could manage before half-time, while Galway added 1-7 in the 20-minute period before the break. Appropriately, it was Tannian who scored their second goal, which came in the 31st minute, to leave Galway leading by 2-7 to 2-5 at the interval.
Kilkenny levelled it up seven minutes into the second half before Galway again raised the tempo, scoring 2-4 in 11 minutes. Both goals, scored by Tannian and Cyril Donnellan, were greatly facilitated by hesitancy among Kilkenny defenders and goalkeeper but, whatever their origin, they left Galway leading by 4-11 to 2-8 after 52 minutes.
That represented an 18-point turnaround, taking Kilkenny into very unfamiliar territory.
Brian Cody wasn't particular interested in delving into that, pointing out that games are never won in the first five minutes, irrespective of how well they might have gone.
"I've always said it. Eight or nine-point leads can be wiped out very quickly. It happened again today. I expected the game to settle after we took that early lead, but I knew Galway would come back at us. They are a very, very strong team," he said.
Still, it's rare for Kilkenny to surrender a big lead, rarer still to fall so far behind that -- even allowing for their trademark resilience -- they left themselves with so much to do that they just couldn't get through enough work to rescue the situation once Galway scored their fourth goal.
They tried hard but ultimately came up short in what was their first defeat of the league campaign. Having lost to Cork a week earlier, it was vitally important for Galway to get back on track. However, the nature of their success may prove more significant than the actual win itself.
"It's a massive psychological boost for us, and it revives our chances of getting to the league final," said McIntyre. "I said to them in the dressing-room that they didn't hurt enough against Cork.
"We all know about Galway's stickwork and ability with the ball, but you have to back that up with a rawness that Galway teams have been lacking through the years and not just on my watch. It was there today."
Certainly, there was much to admire about Galway's brave recovery, but it must be said that they were helped enormously by some sloppy Kilkenny defending.
Indeed, apart from those opening early minutes and again for a period in the second half, Kilkenny were unusually ineffective, with their touch and timing way off, while they were well beaten in the most of the battles for broken ball.
For all that, Cody expressed himself pleased with the overall attitude of his side.
"We're creating chances and taking some of them at various stages, which is good," he said. "I was happy with the way we fought back because that game could have run away very easily after Galway got their fourth goal."
Nonetheless, Kilkenny would never have expected to find themselves thankful for small mercies after that opening burst. But then it was a strange day by the seaside for hosts and visitors alike.
Man of the match: Iarla Tannian (Galway)
Scorers -- Galway: I Tannian 2-2, G Farragher 0-8 (5f, 1 '65'), J Gantley, C Donnellan 1-0 each, A Callanan 0-2, A Cullinane, A Smith 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-6 (3f, 1'65'), M Fennelly 1-2, C Fennelly, E Brennan 1-0 each, TJ Reid, E Larkin 0-2 each, J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick 0-1.
Galway C Callanan 6; D Collins 7, C O'Donovan 7, G O'Halloran 7; D Barry 7, T Og Regan 7, A Cullinane 7; G Farragher 8, D Burke 7; E Ryan 6, A Smith 7, C Donnellan 7; J Gantley 7, I Tannian 9, A Callanan 7. Subs: D Joyce 6 for Cullinane (56), J Coen for Gantley (70), K Kilkenny for Ryan (72).
Kilkenny -- C McGrath 5; C Fogarty 5, J Dalton 5, P Murphy 6; T Walsh 6, J Tyrrell 6, JJ Delaney 7; M Fennelly 7, PJ Delaney 7; C Fennelly 7, E Larkin 7, TJ Reid 6; E Guinan 5, E Brennan 6, R Hogan 6. Subs: J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick 7 for Tyrrell (40), J Mulhall 6 for Guinan (45).
REF -- C McAllister (Cork)