Delaney: Cats must lay down marker to keep fear factor
Kilkenny legend JJ Delaney believes the Cats must "set down a marker" or risk eating Galway's dust again in future meetings when they collide with the reigning Leinster and All-Ireland champions in Sunday's provincial decider.
It was all too easy for the Tribesmen as they coasted to an eight-point success in Salthill in their round-robin clash last month and Delaney is expecting massive improvements to help drive Brian Cody's men closer to the Tribesmen.
Despite a host of new faces like Enda Morrissey, James Maher and John Donnelly experiencing their first Leinster SHC final, the former Hurler of the Year feels there is still doubt in Galway's mind when it comes to Kilkenny, but they "need to deliver a huge performance" to potentially exploit that.
"There'll be a more balanced team and there should be more fire in the belly. They'll take a lot of hurt over what happened in Salthill, they'll have to set down a marker or Galway will have no fear for them whatsoever if they meet them again," Delaney said.
"The doubt is still there in Galway's mind about Kilkenny so if they do rattle them, you wouldn't know what they could do. We know what standards and heights Galway are going to hit but we don't know what heights Kilkenny are going to hit so it's up to Kilkenny to come up to their standards. They shouldn't be afraid of them.
"On any given day, anything can happen and I don't think it'll be a repeat of Salthill. Those young lads won't want that happening to them in their first Leinster final, it's very important to set down a marker."
The nine-time All-Ireland winner admits it was "boys against men" at some stages in Pearse Stadium but he expects the Cats to box far smarter on this occasion and try to isolate Galway's defenders.
"They were stopped in the tackle in Salthill and held up by two or three Galway lads, there was a lot of turnovers in the last few minutes and, as a result, there was a lot of space in the Kilkenny full-back line. They're going to have to learn from it," the Fenians defender said.
"It's up to Kilkenny to get Galway out of their comfort zone and trying to isolate their defenders one-on-one is probably the best way to do that, keep them spread out and don't run into that half-back line.
"David Burke and Johnny Coen will sit back and let the half-backs drop deep so they can't afford to run into them and Kilkenny are going to have to move the ball quicker and open up that Galway defence.
"If you can keep 20 or 30 yards between each defender, it'll be hard to make up that ground in Croke Park, that's what Kilkenny have to do. Try to isolate them as much as possible, criss-cross the ball and keep it open."
Delaney saw enough in TJ Reid's second-half performance in their comeback win against Wexford to have optimism ahead of the weekend, while he also expects Richie Hogan to bounce back to his best form.
"I'd back Richie to have come on a lot in the last three weeks and gotten really sharp. He won't want to be taken off again. I've seen that happen before and then he shoots the lights out the next day."
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