Tuesday 28 January 2020

Cyril Farrell: Galway on course for double - but they haven't seen the last of wounded Cats

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody is finding his best 15 and they are still a very dangerous animal. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody is finding his best 15 and they are still a very dangerous animal. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

The third instalment was the best yet, but this will not be the last time Kilkenny and Galway collide this season, and part four will be an All-Ireland final meeting next month, based on the evidence I saw in Thurles yesterday.

There's no doubt that playing three weeks in a row is a disadvantage for the Cats and Limerick will pose a formidable challenge, but Brian Cody is finding his best 15 and they are still a very dangerous animal.

All the experimentation through spring and summer has built a healthy squad, and if Cody opts to put Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly back into his forward division along with TJ Reid and Walter Walsh - who may be under pressure with a groin injury - his team takes a totally different complexion.

Hogan and Fennelly were brilliant off the bench and with Kilkenny's starting forwards hitting just 1-3 from play, they must start next weekend.

While the bookies make it a coin toss against Limerick, with many pointing to the Cats' tired legs and weary minds after their Leinster final exertions, Cody is the master when it comes to revitalising his troops.

They'll relish the challenge of humbling Limerick's lofty expectations and he'll throw the kitchen sink at them to keep them mentally fresh. He'll put it to them, 'are ye tired? Do ye want to go home and rest for the winter? or do ye want another game?' The answer will be emphatic; it always is with Kilkenny.

While the result went against them yesterday after a slow start, they're playing well and Cody will feel that if they can get over the quarter-final, they're good enough to be back in the All-Ireland final. Cork would await in the last four and while they're a nice team, I don't think they'd live with Kilkenny physically.

Limerick will be fresh after blowing some Munster cobwebs off against Carlow, but it'll be a different kettle of fish against the Cats. They'll try to open them up playing their fast-paced, possession game through the lines.

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Kilkenny will be getting in hard and trying to turn it into a war physically, especially in the middle third. Limerick base a lot of their game on popping the ball to the runner, but Kilkenny's savage aggression and work-rate can shut them down.

They'll have to earn absolutely everything against Kilkenny and I couldn't back against the Cats. Look at their comeback yesterday. Despite playing second fiddle in all sectors of the field at one stage, they still conjured goals out of nothing and made Galway sweat until the finish.

Galway really should have been out of sight, but you never have the Cats beaten. The time when you're on top of them is nearly the time to be most wary because they always bite back.

There's something innate in Kilkenny that they just won't quit: they refuse to yield and when other teams could have gone away with their tails between their legs, they keep fighting until the death.

No other team could have come back against Dublin like Kilkenny did; they have done that since time began and you can't write them off. Other teams will cave in when they're being out-hurled but giving up is never an option and while Limerick will enjoy purple patches, Kilkenny will grind them down.

Psychologically, it was a huge win for Galway. Retaining Leinster and beating Kilkenny along the way - it will be a monkey off their back to have done it the hard way - is the perfect preparation for their All-Ireland defence.

It takes a good team to win an All-Ireland, but a great team to win two and they have the ingredients to complete back-to-back Liam MacCarthy Cup wins. Once they get their own game going, they're unstoppable.

Galway set the tone from the outset and the opening 20 minutes was a joy to watch. The attitude was poles apart from the drawn game, and that had very little to do with hurling. They took Kilkenny on and hounded them everywhere.

David Burke surely had a point to prove after the last day - and his controversial comments that "Kilkenny fear Galway" - and he and Johnny Coen were like men possessed at midfield.

Johnny Glynn's inclusion seemed to throw the cat among the pigeons and he took Pádraig Walsh out of his comfort zone completely. He was the focal point of the attack. It was a big call from Micheál Donoghue to drop Conor Cooney, but it paid dividends and I'd expect Cooney to earn his place back at someone else's expense for the semi-final.

Cathal Mannion and John Hanbury were magnificent and the manner of victory is one of the most pleasing aspects. It highlights Galway's change in character under Donoghue that they drove on when warning signs were going off around them and to win that way was miles better than a comfortable victory.

Firing 1-22 from play is phenomenal shooting but Donoghue won't be happy with his defence. Ger Aylward definitely over-carried for his goal, but he waltzed in along the end-line unopposed, while Galway can't nonchalantly stop to look for frees like they did for Hogan's goal.

No two teams have met four times in the same year in the history of the Hurling Championship, but Kilkenny are still in the running and no team will fancy meeting them. For Galway to emulate the great 1987/'88 team, they may have to beat them three times in one year, now that would be something.

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