Second half burst and leaders step up – Five reasons why Kilkenny are champions
Reigning champions Kilkenny powered to another September success after overcoming a three-point deficit at the break. Here is how Brian Cody’s side came up trumps.
1) Flawless TJ Reid
Is there a more complete hurler in the game right now? The Ballyhale Shamrocks man is a composed operator and the conductor in the Kilkenny orchestra.
His goal in the first half kept the Cats in contention when the game appeared to be slipping away, a cool finish after Walter Walsh created the opening with a powerful run before selflessly off-loading to his team-mate.
Reid didn’t miss a placed ball, constantly kept the scoreboard ticking over and rarely wastes the ball in possession.
A class operator.
2) Galway collapse
Galway put themselves into the driving seat with an all-action first-half performance. Before throw-in, Kilkenny legend Henry Shefflin was of the opinion that the reigning champions would ultimately triumph as the half back line of Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce and Cillian Buckley had the edge over their Galway counterparts.
The Tribesmen however settled quickly, with Iarla Tannion and David Burke dominant in the air and winning their duels. Midfield was on top while Joe Canning was leading the way up front. Add in Jason Flynn’s three monster frees and the outlook appeared good for the underdogs.
However, as they have done so often in the past, Cody’s side raced out of the traps after the break and met the challenge head on. In little over ten minutes they turned a three point deficit into a lead of two points and the Tribesmen could only muster five scores after the break, including a late consolation goal from Joe Canning.
The intensity of the first-half efforts may have been a factor, but like Mayo supporters yesterday, it was a familiar sinking feeling on the big stage.
Cunningham will reflect on what might have been after putting themselves in such a strong position to end the 27-year wait for All-Ireland glory, but the spoils yet again go Kilkenny’s way.
With eight minutes remaining in the contest and Galway chasing down a four-point deficit, Conor Whelan found himself with the opportunity the reduce that to one as he charged for goal.
The teenager was a livewire in the first half in particular and put in a performance of a seasoned pro, rather than that of an eighteen year-old making just his third championship appearance.
Bearing down on Eoin Murphy in goals, Whelan jinked and turned to avoid a block, but his tame shot trickled the wrong side of the post from a Galway perspective.
In the previous play, Colin Fennelly, who was below par for large periods of the contest, fired over for his first of the day. He followed it up with a second. He may have been on the periphery up to that point, but justified Brian Cody’s faith by coming up trumps at the business end of the encounter.
Post-match Cunningham alluded to the experience advantage in the Kilkenny side and while it wasn’t the deciding factor, it played a significant role in Cody’s 11th All-Ireland success.
Whelan, Jason Flynn, John Hanbury and the Mannion brothers will have learned a huge amount from the 2015 campaign and will look to use the defeat as motivation to go one step further next year.
4) Leaders step up
Reid wasn’t the only Kilkenny member to demonstrate his pedigree on the biggest day of the hurling calendar. Winning his eighth Celtic Cross medal, Eoin Larkin was simply immense throughout and made light of a recent thumb injury. Even when the going was tough in the first half, the James Stephens man was winning primary possession and taking the fight to Galway.
After the break he continued in the same vein, while Michael Fennelly was a colossus after the interval. The Ballyhale man was the dominant figure in the middle against a strong Galway pairing and was crucial to the fightback.
5) Second half burst
The huge Galway contingent may have been dreaming of ending their All-Ireland famine at the break, but Brian Cody and his backroom team had other ideas.
As we have seen so often in the past, the Cats came flying out of the blocks after the interval. Walter Walsh moved into the half-forward line and grew into the game, while points from Conor Fogarty and two Reid frees quickly wiped out the Galway lead. In just over 10 minutes they went from three points behind to a couple in front and the Tribesmen had no answer.
The reigning champions hit 14 points in the second half and rather than panic with a sub-standard opening 35 minutes, showed their true mettle with the game in the melting point.
We are unlikely to find out what Cody told his charges during the interval, but whatever was said seemed to have an immediate impact and set the Cats on their way to their 36th All-Ireland title.