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Tribesmen catch the Cats napping

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24 February 2013; Johnny Coen, Galway, in action against Tom Breen, Kilkenny. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Stadium, Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

24 February 2013; Johnny Coen, Galway, in action against Tom Breen, Kilkenny. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Stadium, Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

24 February 2013; Johnny Coen, Galway, in action against Tom Breen, Kilkenny. Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Stadium, Galway. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

A MODICUM of revenge, no more, for the Galway hurlers in Salthill. Yesterday's three-point victory ensures that Anthony Cunningham's men are straight out of the Allianz League Division 1A traps and puts Kilkenny on the early-season back foot ... but it won't make amends for last September.

It may not even prove fatal to Kilkenny ambitions of retaining their NHL crown, although much will now depend on their next outing in a fortnight – another away date with a Tipp team smarting from Saturday night's defeat on Leeside.

Brian Cody's wise-cracking post-match mood bespoke a man who won't be losing too much sleep, even though you must trawl back to Cody's first season – 1999 – to record the last time his team had launched a league campaign with defeat.

The All-Ireland champions might even have won yesterday but for several self-inflicted wounds.

You could argue that all three of Galway's first half goals were avoidable – "I'd be disappointed; they were goals we shouldn't be conceding," admitted Cody – while their relative second-half dominance was not translated on the scoreboard largely because of their own errant finishing.

Squandered

Their wide count of 12 was four more than Galway's and included eight in the second half, among them three squandered frees: one by the otherwise excellent Richie Power and two hard-to-fathom misses by Richie Hogan, each from 50 metres and in front of the posts.

The net result was that last year's double champions were always playing second-half catch-up. They had trailed 3-4 to 0-10 at the break and the margin was then reduced to two points via a 39th-minute Hogan free – but that was as close as they got. Twice Galway extended their advantage to five; each time Kilkenny responded but not quite ruthlessly enough.

On a cold but sun-kissed day, an estimated 8,000 fans (including quite a few lucky latecomers who got in for free after the Pearse Stadium gates were opened) had come hoping for a reprise of last year's epic championship duels. We didn't quite get that; nor did Galway get a repeat of last year's 25-point league mauling.

"It was a typical first league match really, a lot of cobwebs probably on both sides," reflected Cunningham afterwards. "We found it very difficult there 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."

Different perspective, similar summation from the losing boss. "We'd be disappointed to lose the game but overall not too bad. We conceded three goals which is a huge amount and we scored none, but in the end we were fighting there," said Cody.

But they were always fighting an uphill battle because of Galway's early goal burst. Joe Canning didn't score from play but, having switched from his initial full-forward sentry to the half-forwards, he was the instigator of all three goals.

The lively Davy Glennon buried the first, 13 minutes in, after Canning's long delivery soared beyond full-back JJ Delaney and Jonathan Glynn.

Less than two minutes later, it was Niall Healy's turn to pounce on a Canning missile: having got in behind Jackie Tyrrell, he arrowed a sweet angled finish beyond 'keeper Eoin Murphy.

The visitors had actually started in reasonably fine fettle, especially Power, whose midfield relocation didn't stymie his scoring threat: he had landed two brilliant points from play before Glennon's goal, whereas his All Star opponent Iarla Tannian was enduring such a difficult time that he was replaced before half-time.

Even after leaking that rapid-fire goal brace, Kilkenny responded impressively with six of the next seven points. But then Canning delivered his best assist of the day, a sublime crossfield pass to Damien Hayes who escaped the clutches of Tommy Walsh, then stood up to a shoulder from Tyrrell, before finishing in fine style for a 32nd-minute goal. Aidan Fogarty's injury-time riposte left a goal between the sides at the midpoint but, as Galway selector Mattie Kenny admitted, those goals "put the lads in a false position".

Strangely, on a day when their forwards struggled to engineer point chances, the hosts could even have added two second-half goals – but Glennon's mis-hit ground shot and substitute Tadhg Haran's angled drive were both saved by Murphy.

The second half was far less of a spectacle, with plenty of the hurling scrums that Eamonn Cregan recently lamented as "obnoxious", and Diarmuid Kirwan not always helping the cause with some laissez-faire refereeing. Still, Galway perhaps narrowly shaded it because of their goal threat but also because of a solid half-back platform, and so it was apt that rookie centre-back Joseph Cooney (son of the legendary Joe) should crown his Man of the Match performance with a towering 65th-minute point.


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