All-Ireland SHC Final preview Galway v Kilkenny
GALWAY v KILKENNY
Croke Park, 3.30
Whenever one of Brian Cody's Kilkenny teams has lost a game to a rival, they always win the next fixture between the teams. And usually they win well, with their blood pumping vigorously.
And another thing: Cody has always seen Galway as a serious threat. When they met in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final, Noel Lane's physical Galway side outhurled and outmuscled his team. That defeat was the turning point in Cody's tenure. Never again would his side be intimidated by the opposition. Throw in the recent hammering they received at the hands of Galway in the Leinster final and you have to expect that there will be a ferocious backlash this afternoon.
We have to point out, too, that even though they were blown out of it in that shock provincial final reverse, they did win the second half. Today, they'll look to go at it from the start and maintain the tempo throughout.
It's their seventh successive All-Ireland final but with Henry Shefflin looking to make history by winning a ninth medal, the Kilkenny players will feel that their hunger is stronger than ever.
This time last year, still smarting from the defeat of the previous year, they took Tipperary apart in the first half of the final, bursting through them with aggression and power. They'll try to bury Galway in the first 20 minutes too.
Cody has laid down his marker about how he feels the game should be refereed and by all accounts there is a refined game plan in the bag ready to exact revenge on the Tribesmen.
They have big-game experience as well while so many of this young Galway team might not be ready for the ferocity of what they are about to face.
Johnny Coen, for example, has been a joy to watch this year. His dynamism, reading of the ball and vision have been highlights of the summer. In some games he has made up to 11 telling clearances but do we seriously expect for a second that he'll be allowed to hit three clean balls this afternoon? Aidan Fogarty or Colin Fennelly will be all over him when he has possession.
They'll look to curb Damien Hayes too. In the Leinster final they didn't know how to manage him and you could clearly hear the Kilkenny players looking to their line for instructions. Hayes has been one of the stars of the season. He'll have it all to do to make space this afternoon.
JJ Delaney will be back to mark Joe Canning and Michael Fennelly wasn't fit for that Leinster final either so it further strengthens Kilkenny's challenge.
The biggest mistake Galway could make today would be to place Canning 60 yards from the Kilkenny goal. Certainly, if they are to win they will surely need him on the edge of the square. He could well bury a goal or two.
We don't mean to write off Galway so easily. They followed up their stunning Leinster final show with an industrial and respectable defeat of Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.
And the recent under 21 semi-final defeat to Kilkenny will have spelt out exactly what is required to win today. Some of their key players, the likes of Hynes and Conor Cooney, hardly got a sniff on that occasion. They can only bounce back now.
But being on the verge of bridging a 24-year gap to their last MacCarthy Cup success in 1988 brings its own stresses.
Will they be able for the big occasion? At a recent open night, over 2,500 kids turned out to meet the players, so keeping the hype down has been a task.
Anthony Cunningham has played a blinder all year long. Galway's provincial final tactics were exceptional -- they fought all their battles on the deck, not in the air -- and they executed their plan to perfection.
There was no crazy celebration of that win, though, and ever since the players have preached the message that there were bigger fish to fry.
They are a serious side well capable of winning and provided the big-day experience doesn't get the better of them they should bring this final to the wire. No matter what happens they are looking like serial contenders for the next five or six years.
But will Kilkenny be as bad as they were in the Leinster final? Will Galway be let play as well? There was no suggestion against Tipperary that Kilkenny are on the slide and equally against Cork, Galway didn't look anywhere near as convincing as they previously did.
The Galway players are confident they will win this game, they have one of the brightest young managers around and mentally they are as tough as they have ever been.
Still, all that considered, how could you possibly back against Kilkenny?
Odds: Kilkenny 4/11; Galway 11/4; Draw 12/1
Handicap Betting: Kilkenny (-4) Evs; Galway (+4) Evs; Tie (-4) 11/1
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