Thursday 13 December 2018

'That game will stand to us' - Micheál Donoghue 'expected nothing less' as Cats find claws

Galway’s Niall Burke battles John Donnelly of Kilkenny for possession of the ball. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Niall Burke battles John Donnelly of Kilkenny for possession of the ball. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

'Our boys are human, do you know what I mean?" sighs Micheál Donoghue, peering out into a sparsely populated media auditorium.

Too many brains keep over-heating in this room. The last thing seen tends to become the new gospel, everything distilled down to an elegy or a sun dance. Then a hand reaches up out of a casket and, well, you know the rest. A tall, gaunt man is usually standing there.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Galway’s Joe Canning watch a late free sail over the bar. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Galway’s Joe Canning watch a late free sail over the bar. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilkenny are still alive then. Still contrary and cussed and more than happy to take a swing. That's the breaking news here. They may not travel with the certainties of their past, but nobody will take liberties in their company.

Donoghue knew that before he saw it.

He alludes to people getting "carried away" in recent weeks, building Galway up into this towering monolith in whose shadow others quivered. Little more than a month ago, they accumulated 23 scores in Salthill to Kilkenny's 13. It had the feeling of a hiding, one salted with all manner of bad tidings for Brian Cody.

Kilkenny had gone 40 minutes without scoring from play that day. Next time out, they came close to a repeat against a sometimes rampant Wexford.

Yet they stirred themselves to beat Davy Fitzgerald's men and here they are now in the first week of July, listening to the same, wheezy vernacular of so many past summers. How could we doubt them when their history is a story of such innate defiance?

"We expected nothing less, fair play to them," sighs Donoghue whose men have themselves shown character not to fall into an obvious trap here. Ostensibly, a draw should be a stone in his shoe, given Galway led by three points approaching the end of normal time. But you cannot simulate yesterday's intensity on a training ground. Coloured bibs don't give you Kilkenny. Thurles next Sunday will squeeze Donoghue's team again in a way that will leave little or nothing hidden. If Galway are to meet their own expectations, these are the games that will define them.

Yesterday, they were hunted down by men who put the lie to any notion that this Galway team is simply too big to be roped down. Pádraig Walsh's first 35 minutes were nothing less than extraordinary, the Tullaroan man attacking everything that came towards the Kilkenny 'square' with such brio, it's a moot point if Gulliver himself would have chanced putting up a hand.

And Walsh's aggression was the template for Kilkenny's day.

They hurled on the front foot, hunting in packs, putting bodies on the line. Remarkably, six of the starting 15 had never hurled championship in Croke Park before, but you'd never have known. Billy Ryan sniped two Canal end points inside half an hour and would have had a third but for a wonderful block by Adrian Tuohy. James Maher and Enda Morrissey both had storming second-halves.

And maybe the bonus of all bonuses for Cody? The sight of Richie Hogan arcing a sublime crossfield pass to Morrissey for Kilkenny's penultimate score before the old reliable, TJ, levelled things from near a Cusack Stand advertising hoarding.

Hogan saw just 15 minutes of action here but, if it signalled an end to his quarrelsome back issues, it might yet be the best thing that Kilkenny took from this day.

Yet, all that said, Galway showed us something too that wasn't in them through so much of their past. They fronted up. They accepted the temperature mandated by Kilkenny's return to old testament values and pointedly refused to buckle.

The battle between Dáithí Burke and big Walter was better than any Rocky/Apollo Creed love letter; while TJ was on such endless safari Gearóid McInerney must have been dizzy trying to figure out who Kilkenny had on the 'forty', if indeed they had anyone.

It was a game of chronic traffic jams all through then, of relentless hits, of bottomless physical exertion. Hugely flawed, massively fulfilling. "It's probably been the most physical and intense game we've had in a long time" sighed Donoghue.

"And when it is that intense, you're going to be put under pressure. Some of our play looked a bit off at times, but that game will stand to us now.

"We've the height of respect for Kilkenny. They won the league and had some massive wins in the championship. So we were under no illusions that they were going to be a big challenge.

"I think people write them off and think they're gone away and that's not true like. That's evident in their performances.

"We knew they weren't going to come here and lie down today. They worked as hard as we expected them to and I've no doubt it'll be the same next week."

With all the swarming, goal opportunities should have been at a premium, yet Galway might have had one in the 20th minute but for Cathal Mannion's almost complacent effort at a first-time pull when taking ball to hand would have been more profitable.

Then Ger Aylward had a weakly-struck 28th-minute shot saved by James Skehill in the same goal from which Eoin Murphy parried a Conor Whelan piledriver just after the resumption.

At the Hill end, Skehill would save a rasping shot from TJ too. In all the heavy congestion, little pockets of light were still erupting.

Donoghue was asked if he'd been surprised by Kilkenny's strength in the air and the question just seemed an exercise in forgetfulness. Cody has never been inclined to put his faith in men shy under dropping ball and nobody in stripes was inclined to deviate from that script here.

He likes self-sufficient hurlers. Always has done. Always will.

The great man's own view of a performance we should have seen coming? "Some of the players really stood up, really played with terrific drive and leadership" he told us. "I'd certainly be very happy with the performance of all of our players.

"A game takes on a life of its own. If there are options to go short, you go short. But both teams probably went with the long ball a lot. That puts pressure on the back lines as well but both probably dealt with it fairly well."

Expunged His smile bore the glow a man back building something, working an idea. Pulling familiar ropes. The ghost of Salthill was expunged here and, having already used nine championship debutants this summer, what Kilkenny might become is anybody's guess now.

"General opinion around the place, not even in our county, there is not a huge amount of expectation there," he said. "But we were very decent today. That is where you find out about players, out there. You have to go out and sample it.

"The last day (in Salthill) we were competitive to an extent I suppose, but in the end they did pull away very, very well. You were expecting them to do that again today a few times, but we rallied well and kept the battle going. Again, possibly with all the talk about it, they were thinking that they would win the game, so they will be a hell of a lot tougher to beat or take on next Sunday.

"They will be warned now."

Truth to tell, all of us will. That scratching in the attic? It wasn't mice.

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