Sunday 23 September 2018

Tribesmen pass tough nerve test with top honours

Galway 1-28 Kilkenny 3-15

Johnny Glynn fires an effort at the Kilkenny posts during yesterday’s Leinster SHC final replay in Thurles. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Johnny Glynn fires an effort at the Kilkenny posts during yesterday’s Leinster SHC final replay in Thurles. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When the hard questions were put, Galway had the right answers, but once they get around to analysing the entire performance they will have to address one particular conundrum.

How did they allow a 12-point lead to be pared back to one, leaving them dangerously exposed against opposition who responded to adversity as if it were no more than a minor irritant.

Galway captain David Burke. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Galway captain David Burke. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

There's nothing new about Kilkenny's defiance and while the extraordinary recovery wasn't enough to dislodge Galway this time, it showed that they are still a seriously powerful outfit.

Indeed, it would be no surprise if they were to renew the rivalry with Galway for the fourth time in 12 weeks in the All-Ireland final on August 19.

They would have to beat Limerick and Cork to achieve that, but on the basis of how they battled back from a seemingly impossible position in the intense heat around Semple Stadium yesterday, nobody would dare suggest that their season has no more to give.

The first test came when they fell 11 points behind after 20 minutes; the second when, after a brief surge, they were 12 down in the 33rd minute.

Jason Flynn of Galway in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jason Flynn of Galway in action against Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

However, it was when they were seven points behind in the 49th minute that they really showed their worth.

They were, after all, up against the reigning Leinster and All-Ireland champions, unbeaten in their previous 10 Championship games.

Not just that, but when Galway moved to full power through their more enterprising periods in the first-half, they looked untouchable.

Scores cascaded from all angles and distances, while Micheál Donoghue's decision to start Jonathan Glynn rather than Conor Cooney at full-forward had been vindicated.

David Burke of Galway in action against Conor Fogarty of Kilkenny. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Burke of Galway in action against Conor Fogarty of Kilkenny. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Not only did Glynn greatly restrict the influence of Pádraig Walsh, who had been imperious in the drawn game, he made a significant early contribution when firing in Galway's goal in the 13th minute.

It was followed by a string of points, leaving Galway leading by 1-9 to 0-1 after 20 minutes - a scoreline reminiscent of the the 2012 Leinster final when they devastated Kilkenny in the first-half.

Galway led by 1-15 to 0-6 after 33 minutes, a total equalling their entire haul in Croke Park a week earlier.

Ger Aylward's goal - albeit with the Galway defence querying the number of steps that were taken- helped Kilkenny to make some inroads before half-time, but they still headed for the dressing-rooms trailing by nine points (1-16 to 1-7).

Padraig Walsh of Kilkenny and Jonathan Glynn and Conor Whelan of Galway contest possession. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Padraig Walsh of Kilkenny and Jonathan Glynn and Conor Whelan of Galway contest possession. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Even allowing for Kilkenny's legendary fighting spirit, this massive challenge seemed beyond them, especially when they didn't make an immediate impact in the second-half.

Indeed, they were lucky not to fall 12 points behind for a second time when Joe Canning whipped a ground stroke narrowly wide in the 40th minute.

It was as if the let-off inspired Kilkenny, whose response was to score a second goal, flicked in by Colin Fennelly, who had come in as a sub at half-time. So too had Richie Hogan, who grew in influence with each passing minute. He scored Kilkenny's third goal in the 55th minute, cutting the deficit to a single point (1-20 to 3-13).

Having outscored Galway by 3-7 to 0-5 between the 33rd and 55th minutes, Kilkenny looked primed to turn a remarkable recovery into a famous victory, a turn of events that would almost certainly have had horrendous consequences for the Tribesmen.

Heading into a clash with Limerick next weekend is difficult enough for Kilkenny, but it would have been head-wrecking for Galway after being in such an advantageous position yesterday. Instead, the manner in which they worked their way through the crisis pointed towards a calmness and character that wasn't always in evidence prior to making the All-Ireland breakthrough last year.

Canning and Cathal Mannion were central to the stabilisation process, each scoring two points from play in the most pressurised circumstances; while further back, Aidan Harte, John Hanbury and Padraig Mannion solidified a defensive structure that wobbled precariously for a period prior to that.

Kilkenny scored just two points in the final 20 minutes, a strike rate that looked unthinkable when they were enjoying a golden four minutes, during which they hit an unanswered 1-3. The scoring fade-out was a big disappointment for them, but they will also know that it came about because of Galway's return to the high standards they had set themselves in the first-half.

It was clear from the throw-in that they were in a completely different mindset compared to a week earlier, when they struggled to raise their intensity to the required levels.

There was much more to them this time, firing over the first three points and preventing Kilkenny from scoring until the 12th minute.

Still, nobody could have foreseen the power play Galway were about to unleash.

To add to Kilkenny's woes, they lost Walter Walsh with a groin injury at the end of the first quarter, which was quite a setback against such a physically powerful Galway defence.

It's to Kilkenny's great credit that they recovered from a horrendous opening 33 minutes and while ultimately is wasn't enough to prevent Galway from retaining the Leinster title for the first time, it gives them plenty to work off for the clash with Limerick.

The huge physical demands of three games on successive weekends must be a concern, although not one that Brian Cody will allow to become an issue in the players' minds.

Talking of fatigue can bring it on, so Cody will be concentrating very much on the positives, as Kilkenny, who beat Limerick by three points in last year's qualifiers, bid to keep their All-Ireland ambitions afloat.

He will be especially pleased with the form shown by subs Hogan and Fennelly, each of whom scored 1-1. They are likely to be in the starting line-up against Limerick.

Galway have a three-week break before the All-Ireland semi-final, a period which Donoghue will use to further fine-tune an engine that appears to be cranking up at precisely the right time.

Granted, it misfired on occasions in all three games with Kilkenny, but they still won two of them by a combined margin of 15 points and drew the other one.

Not many teams manage that.

Scorers - Galway: J Canning 0-10 (6f), C Mannion 0-6, C Whelan 0-4, J Glynn 1-1, A Harte, N Burke 0-2 each, J Cooney, C Cooney, J Flynn 0-1 each

Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-9 (6f), R Hogan, C Fennelly 1-1 each, G Aylward 1-0, J Donnelly, J Maher, C Fogarty, J Holden 0-1 each

Galway - J Skehill 6; A Tuohey 7, Daithi Burke 8, J Hanbury 8; P Mannion 7, G McInerney 7, A Harte 8; J Coen 6, David Burke 7; J Cooney 6, J Canning 8, N Burke 7; C Whelan 7, J Glynn 8, C Mannion 9 Subs: C Cooney 7 for N Burke (47), J Flynn 7 for J Cooney (61), S Loftus for David Burke (69)

Kilkenny - E Murphy 7; P Murphy 6, P Walsh 6, P Deegan 6; J Holden 7, C Buckley 7, E Morrissey 6; C Fogarty 8, J Maher 7; J Donnelly 6, TJ Reid 8, R Leahy 5; B Ryan 5, W Walsh (inj 17), G Aylward 7 Subs: L Blanchfield 6 for Walsh (17), C Fennelly 7 for Ryan (jt), R Hogan 8 for Leahy (ht), R Lennon 6 for Morrissey (48), L Scanlon 6 for Donnelly (62)

Ref - J Owens (Wexford)

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