Sunday 20 October 2019

Cyril Farrell: Tribesmen must show they can match Kilkenny physicality

Donoghue's troops need to take leaf from Cody's book by playing like All-Ireland champions under intense pressure

Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

When the chance to make history comes your way, you need to make damn sure you are ready to take it. All the more so when you are a Galway hurler heading for Pearse Stadium as part of a team that's ranked No 1 in the country and the opposition is Kilkenny, who have set the benchmark for pure excellence for so long.

I'm glad Brian Cody's men are the first county to come west for a Leinster Championship game. It adds to the importance of an occasion that's long overdue.

It was ridiculous that Galway had to cross the Shannon for every Leinster game over the last nine years but that's in the past and now it's showtime by the seaside in Salthill.

There's a lot more at stake for Galway than either the desire to win their first 'home' Leinster game or indeed the two points on offer in the round robin series.

This is about making a statement that they are All-Ireland champions and have no intention of even blinking once during the drive to retain it.

And if they need any example of how that works, all they have to do is look at Kilkenny over the last 18 years.

They didn't dominate so many of those seasons by merely beating opposition - they ground them into oblivion when the chance arose. Nothing personal, just business. There's nothing boastful or unlikeable about Kilkenny hurling - in fact, it has prided itself on modesty and respect under Cody - but while the game is on, they will devour you if at all possible.

Why win by six points if you can win by 12? Why not stretch every muscle to the limit to win a Walsh Cup first round on a dismal January Sunday? Why not go to Salthill and stuff the All-Ireland champions on their historic day?

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Psychologically, Galway have fared badly against Kilkenny. Granted, they have a better record than most against Kilkenny in the Cody era but they also lost games that were there to be won. Opportunities missed, regrets aplenty.

Now is their chance, not so much make amends for the past, but to set down a marker for the future, starting with this year's championship.

If Galway win, it will tell the rest of the contenders that they are in mighty good shape; if they lose, they will drift back into the pack.

That wouldn't be terminal, of course, but Micheál Donoghue and his squad know that it's a whole lot better to be looking at the opposition in rear view mirrors than alongside you.

I believe Galway are plenty good enough to win tomorrow, provided they hurl on full power. It's back to basics and the ploys, patterns and precision that served them so well last year.

The concern would be that it took so long to rediscover all three this year. In fairness, circumstances were against them in the league and they weren't full tuned for the big games against Limerick and Wexford, but every time All-Ireland champions lose a game, it encourages the pursuers.

Galway looked a whole lot better against Offaly two weeks ago but tomorrow brings a completely different test. This is Kilkenny, complete with trademark craft and cunning, talented marksmen like TJ Reid, not to mention their obsessional determination.

Galway can expect to be hit harder than at any time over the last 12 months. Kilkenny bring huge physicality - legitimately it must be emphasised - so Galway will not only need to be ready for that, but respond even stronger so that they set the agenda. If they match Kilkenny in that area - and I believe they will - and they get the rest of their game right, they have the firepower to mark the special occasion with a win.

I'm also looking forward to the Offaly-Wexford game this evening. The momentum is very much with Wexford but Offaly have done enough this year under Kevin Martin to suggest that the rebuild is based on solid foundations.

Their immediate problem is that Wexford are much further down the development road. That's crucial when a game reaches decision-time, so while Offaly are capable of testing Wexford all the way, they will probably still come up short.

Derek McGrath must feel that for some reason the gods have taken a turn against Waterford.

No home games in the Munster round robin and now they must play Clare in Ennis without Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony. It's a handicap that's likely to prove too much for them.

I expect a massive backlash from Tipperary in Thurles. They need to put last Sunday's setback behind them, re-set and go again.

Michael Ryan gambled to some degree against Limerick and while it didn't work, the damage is not as serious as some would have you believe.

They still have three games to go play in Munster and if they win tomorrow, they will be right back in contention for a place in the final. Cork were very enterprising against Clare but I still fancy Tipp to beat them.

Irish Independent

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