Saturday 17 March 2018

Five things we learned from Kilkenny's win over Galway

Kilkenny players celebrate with the cup. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final
Kilkenny players celebrate with the cup. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final

Damian Lawlor

Kilkenny are Leinster champions yet again as Brian Cody picks up a remarkable 38th title as Cats boss. Here are five things we learned from their win at Croke Park.

1) Graft behind the gold

We all know that TJ Reid is one of the top five hurlers in the land but today he reminded us that he has become one of the hardest working too. In his early years consistency and graft may not have been golden components of his game but they are now.

With Richie Hogan tied up by Daithi Burke for a lot of the first half Reid cut loose in a short spell with 3 points from play, while the '65 he took arrowed directly over the bar and he was fouled for another converted free. Reid was on the ball eight times in the first half hour alone and every touch seemed to be a dagger into the Galway heart, none more so than his goal. On one occasion just before the break he made three lung bursting runs to get the ball back.

He had 1-4 scored at that stage and his side were seven points up. Other players could be mentally tuned out by then but Reid was only more fired up.

TJ Reid, Kilkenny, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal

2) Some things you just can't teach

We needed good game in this hurling championship and we got it. Joe Canning's goal on 32 minutes was the highlight of the day. He took 7 steps to catch the ball with his back turned turn towards the goal. He turned and struck at the same time. Bang.

You can train in the muck and dirt for six months, you can load up on carbs, pump up the protein and work the core for an hour a day but you just can't teach that. It took the breath away and to be frank, we've been saying it for years, Galway don't do enough of leaving Canning in there and feeding him.

Three Kilkenny men were on his tail but he got that fantastic strike away. Skills-wise, he is on a different level to most other hurlers in the land, but maybe we had forgotten that. His goal is one score that will be registered in the archives for all time. A goal for the ages.

Joe Canning celebrates scoring a goal for Galway in the 32nd minute.

3) Kilkenny can still win without Mick Fennelly on the field, or Richie Hogan at full throttle

Mick Fennelly was a huge loss before the game and for once Hogan wasn't the dominant player on the pitch but the Cats still got the cream. It's been so long since Hogan was not at 100 mph that we had almost forgotten Kilkenny could win without him being at his optimum.

Indeed he has turned so many big games over the years for Kilkenny but without the powering influence on Fennelly alongside him he was marshalled well enough by the opposition today. In his programme notes Anthony Cunningham remarked how important it was to keep Hogan and Reid quiet.

They managed it somewhat with Daithi Burke keeping close tabs on the Danesfort man who still managed to clip over a fine series of points from out the field. His wrist work and economy are skills to behold.

5 July 2015; Colin Fennelly, left, and Richie Hogan, Kilkenny, in action against Fergal Moore, left, and Daith? Burke, Galway. Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final, Kilkenny v Galway. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: D?ire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

4) Galway are still All-Ireland contenders

Their first touch wasn't sharp enough to beat Kilkenny but Galway showed enough to suggest that they will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the season.

To do that they need to improve their stick work under intensity, cut down on their fouling, they need to avoid having lulls in games and they need to find a way of getting their three inside forwards into the game at the same time. But there were plenty of positives for the Connacht side all the same. When they played with intensity they were a match for their opponents.

Joe Canning, Galway, celebrates scoring his side's first goal

5) Yes, of course Kilkenny do tactics and they do them well

Trophy number 39 for the manager Brian Cody so there has to be more to him than his pillars of honesty and genuineness. Work-rate, energy and skill are obviously hallmarks of the team but they expand and compact space with excellence whenever it suits them.

They began the game with TJ Reid at full forward and it worked a treat. They also used a third midfielder at times, though they didn't pack their defence as heavily as they have done in recent years.

With 15 minutes to go they moved John Power in full forward, Ger Aylward moved to the left corner and Eoin Larkin was moved out to left half forward and proceeded to finish the game in a withdrawn midfield role with Wally Walsh invited to push further up the field.

Kilkenny evolve, squeeze their opponents and cajole more from their team unit as the 70 minutes tick. They remain supreme champions on a day they claimed their 70th Leinster title.


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