Monday 24 September 2018

Defiant Kilkenny make statement of intent in Leinster final

Galway 0-18 Kilkenny 0-18

Walter Walsh of Kilkenny is tackled by Gearóid McInerney of Galway during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Walter Walsh of Kilkenny is tackled by Gearóid McInerney of Galway during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

For reasons that were neither clear nor logical, Kilkenny were 5/2 outsiders for yesterday's game, odds that looked seriously imbalanced before throw-in and even more so as a ferocious battle waged in the searing sun in Croke Park.

Even when Galway opened up a three-point lead in the 67th minute, there was no sense that it would be decisive against opposition who have inherited the defiant streak that always made Kilkenny so hard to beat.

Conor Whelan of Galway in action against Paul Murphy of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Whelan of Galway in action against Paul Murphy of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

It came to their rescue again as a sub, a defender and the epitome of reliability scored points to level it up in what was the first drawn Leinster final since 1993.

John Donnelly, a 57th-minute replacement for Richie Leahy, wing-back Enda Morrissey and TJ Reid all pointed to bring the sides level for the 10th time.

Saving the day in such dramatic circumstances has handed Kilkenny the psychological advantage for the replay. This will be of concern to Galway, who would have loved to put down a marker against their long-time tormentors.

They won last year's Leinster and All-Ireland titles without playing Kilkenny and while that didn't detract from the merit of their achievements, it did add to the intrigue for this year.

John Hanbury of Galway in action against Kilkenny players, from left, Liam Blanchfield, Walter Walsh and TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile
John Hanbury of Galway in action against Kilkenny players, from left, Liam Blanchfield, Walter Walsh and TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile

So when Galway beat Kilkenny by eight points in Pearse Stadium in late May, it pointed to a significant power shift in the rivalry. In hindsight, too much was made of that game. Kilkenny were having their third outing in 14 days, a workload that probably contributed to their lethargy and general lack of sharpness.

It was totally different yesterday. Right from the start, this was more like the Kilkenny of old, driving into every challenge and tackle with immense determination, making it clear that they would not lose the physical war.

Galway's strength has been continually referenced as an area of advantage over most opposition, but it certainly wasn't a factor yesterday.

Kilkenny gave as good as they got after Padraig Walsh set the example early on, when plucking some high balls over the heads of taller opponents.

Others did it too and it quickly became apparent that Galway were facing something completely different to what they encountered in the four Leinster round robin games.

But then the Bob O'Keeffe Cup was glistening in the Hogan Stand and nothing energises Kilkenny more than the sight of silverware.

They would have collected it if Galway weren't well-primed for the powerful challenge. Still, they had to survive scary moments in the first-half, when Kilkenny created some goal chances only to be let down by a stray pass or a bad decision.

Galway were dangerous at the other end as well, with Conor Whelan's pace causing problems. They opened up a two-point lead in the 27th minute, but Kilkenny finished strongly, scoring three points to lead by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time.

Given that the wides tally was 8-4 in Kilkenny's favour at that stage, Galway would have been quite happy with the situation, believing that there was much more to come.

And there was, but just as Galway raised their game in the second-half, so did Kilkenny. Eoin Murphy made an excellent save from Whelan straight after the restart, deflecting the ball out for a '65' which Joe Canning pointed.

It was level (0-11 each) after 50 minutes before Galway moved up another gear. They led by three points after 57 minutes, raising hopes among their supporters that having survived Kilkenny's best shots, they would drive home their new-found advantage.

They might have against any other opposition. Kilkenny ,though, are different, as they showed yet again in the tense closing minutes - when they not only held their nerve but also remained sufficiently composed to create and convert three scoring chances.

With Croke Park booked for a concert next weekend, it means that the replay heads for Semple Stadium (Sunday, 3.0) in what will be a most unusual situation, with a Munster venue staging a Leinster final between Leinster and Connacht counties.

Apart from taking the title, there's an added incentive for Galway and Kilkenny to win as the losers will be in action again a week later against Limerick or Westmeath in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Teams found playing on three or four successive weekends very difficult in the provincial round robins, so next Sunday's losers will be at a distinct disadvantage in the quarter-final.

It will make the replay all the more intense, if indeed that's possible in this particular rivalry.

Brian Cody will be delighted with the manner in which some of those who were new to Leinster finals responded.

James Maher was excellent around midfield, Richie Leahy did a whole lot right before being withdrawn in the 57th minute, while Billy Ryan scored two points and was in no way overawed by the big occasion.

Older hands like Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Joey Holden, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh were solid anchors in a gritty performance which suggested that Kilkenny's transition period is well and truly over.

Galway will feel there is a whole lot more in them than they displayed yesterday. They struggled at midfield, where nothing went right for captain David Burke, and with Kilkenny standing up to them in the physical stakes all over the pitch, they look a lot less imposing than last year.

Even Joe Canning, whose accuracy has sustained them so often, had difficulties with his shooting, driving no fewer than five wides - from open play, frees and a line ball.

Kilkenny didn't engage Gearoid McInerney to any great degree in the air, instead opting to test him on the ground, which worked quite well.

Padraig and Cathal Mannion, Adrian Tuohy and Niall Burke did best on a day when Galway really discovered the enormity of the task ahead if they are to retain the All-Ireland title.

They will have felt deeply frustrated initially at the failure to protect a three-point lead in the closing minutes, but a closer analysis will show that Kilkenny certainly deserved to get a second chance.

They obviously learned a lot from defeat in Pearse Stadium and now it's a question of who gleans the most from yesterday's game. Brian Cody and Micheál Donoghue will be stocking up on midnight oil this week.

Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (8f), B Ryan 0-2, E Murphy (f), G Aylward, W Walsh, J Maher, J Donnelly, E Morrissey 0-1 each

Galway: J Canning 0-6 (4f, 1'65'), N Burke 0-4, C Mannion 0-3, J Cooney, C Whelan 0-2 each, C Cooney 0-1

Kilkenny - E Murphy 8; P Murphy 7, P Walsh 9, P Deegan 7; J Holden 7, C Buckley 8, E Morrissey 7; C Fogarty 7, J Maher 8; M Keoghan 6, TJ Reid 8, R Leahy 7; B Ryan 7, W Walsh 7, G Aylward 6 Subs: L Blanchfield 6 for Keoghan (48), J Donnelly 7 for Leahy (57), R Hogan 6 for Aylward (58), C Fennelly for Ryan (64)

Galway - J Skehill 7; A Tuohy 8, Daithi Burke 7, J Hanbury 7; P Mannion 8, G McInerney 6, A Harte 7; J Coen 6, David Burke 5; J Cooney 6, J Canning 6, C Mannion 8; C Whelan 7, N Burke 8, C Cooney 5 Subs: J Glynn 7 for C Cooney (58), B Concannon for C Mannion (65), J Flynn for Whelan (70)

Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary)

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