Jamesie O'Connor: Payback time for Galway before Kilkenny rediscover their ferocity
This probably won't be the last time this pair meet this summer
It's the last Sunday in May. The Leinster final is on July 1, five weeks from today. And we have Galway playing Kilkenny this afternoon. My belief is that they will meet again in five weeks, although Wexford might have something to say about it yet.
In fact, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the defending champions and favourites, Galway, will end up playing Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final. Maybe that's something Micheal Donohue would relish on the third Sunday in August. But if Galway take care of business this afternoon, and take the preferred route through the front door by winning Leinster, the potentially nightmare scenario of Brian Cody in the opposite corner for the third time later this summer doesn't bear thinking about.
There's a lot of hurling to be played, though, before we ever get to that stage.
We are now into week three in Leinster, and Kilkenny are two from two. While they haven't been particularly impressive, I don't think their management will be unduly worried. The close shave in Parnell Park was evidence they mightn't be as far down the path of progress as the league final indicated, and Tipp's woes last weekend cast a further shadow on that form.
Nonetheless, two wins are two wins; the younger players are getting valuable championship experience, and with Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly on the bench today, they have key men getting closer to full fitness. They'll have a week off before Wexford come to Nowlan Park in the last match, and more importantly, a clear barometer of exactly where they're at by 6.0 this evening.
From Galway's perspective, this game is about one word: payback. The only regret from 2017 if you're a Galway player is that they didn't get the opportunity to beat the Cats along the way. With two All-Ireland final defeats in the last six years, and a heap of other misery endured at the hands of today's opposition, they should be relishing the opportunity to inflict some pain of their own on Cody's side.
The balance of power in Leinster has swung westwards and the Tribesmen now look the stronger, more talented and experienced side. It's time now for Galway to start exerting that dominance, and turn the screw before the empire inevitably strikes back.
In front of an expectant home crowd, in a historic first Leinster Championship match in Salthill, I anticipate the Galway players being as fired up as they're likely to be at any stage this summer. Make no mistake about it, from the day the draw was made, this game has been targeted.
The beauty of that for us neutrals is that it's simply not in the Kilkenny manager's DNA to roll over and accept the medicine Galway no doubt feel like administering. Which means it will be instilled in his players too.
Whatever else, and we saw first-hand evidence against Dublin a fortnight ago, the word surrender doesn't seem to exist in the Kilkenny vocabulary. You have to admire them for it. Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley, Paul Murphy and Co won't stand aside and allow Galway walk all over them, so expect fireworks and it to be every bit as tough and physical as round one was in Parnell Park.
The bottom line for me, however, is that I don't see the Kilkenny defence being able to contain that Galway attack. Whatever about later in the summer when Cody has a full hand to pick from, knows exactly what he really has, and Kilkenny have their best 15 players on the field, but right now, that's not the case.
This won't be the last time this pairing cross paths this summer. Today, though, I think payback is coming; the Tribesmen will get goals, and could win with five or six points to spare.
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