Wednesday 13 November 2019

All-Ireland SHC final replay Galway v Kilkenny, 3.30

Damian Lawlor

On Friday night, the phone started hopping. James Skehill was in trouble with a shoulder that was dodgy anyway before he dived awkwardly on it. Fergal Fannery, only 21, was put on standby for the biggest game of his career. We waited until word came in that the shoulder was popped back in by medics.

Then the texts beeped through from Kilkenny. Walter Walsh, born in 1991, not even a Walsh Cup game played, was selected to make his championship debut in an All-Ireland final. The last person to do that was Teddy McCarthy in the 1986 decider against Galway. And Cillian Buckley in at number 10, although he'll surely move to midfield.

And the guys to miss out? The team's two hardest-working forwards, Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly. It's clear that Brian Cody feels they have much to learn from the stalemate.

Obviously, Kilkenny are unhappy and have rung the changes. Maybe they think that Kevin Hynes can be got at in the full-back position; therefore they have brought the towering Walsh into the full-forward line to shake things up. High balls will be rained down on top of Skehill, if he's fit enough, and Hynes. Buckley will energise midfield, a problem area last time out. That will release Richie Hogan into the forwards.

It's crucial to Galway that Skehill is fit to start. They have twice gone toe to toe with Cody's men in this year's championship and still not spilled blood. One must also imagine that the experience of playing in the drawn final will bring the young Galway players on a huge amount.

Yet, chances are that Galway could have to win today by coming from behind. In the drawn encounter they limited Kilkenny to four clean catches in the first half and moved their forwards around to great effect. They isolated the Kilkenny defenders near their own goal and kept an old hand like JJ Delaney on the run throughout the first 35 minutes.

But the Cats will hardly be as slow out of the blocks again. And while they have struggled to score goals against Galway in the last two encounters, they did look to have the measure of Anthony Cunningham's defence by running at them.

Brian Hogan won't be cleaned like he was in that first half either. Equally, you couldn't expect the likes of Mick Fennelly or Richie Hogan to be as quiet again. Henry Shefflin kept his men in it with three quick-fire frees before the break, and he pulled all the strings in attack, so Galway must nullify him.

It's also a massive day for the lion-hearted Tony óg Regan. He battled so hard in the first game but Shefflin could not be contained when he assumed the number 11 role. If he can manage to keep him quiet today, Galway will be on their way.

To summarise, Kilkenny were down for long periods the last day but made only one substitution. That suggests their options have dried up but then players like Mick Fennelly have so much more to offer in providing back-up for Shefflin.

And yet, Galway are possibly fresher and know for sure that they have Kilkenny's measure. The experience of playing a final -- and to be still standing after it -- will inspire them. The nerves, parade, handshakes, all that is second nature now.

We can see them starting slowly -- in fact Kilkenny could sprint out in front -- but if they hold their nerve, though, Galway can claw their way back. We base that on their raw hunger, excellent skill levels and their freshness and pace.

Kilkenny hurled to a very high level in the second half of the final but still could not put them away. Most people will fancy them to do the job now but not us.

Verdict: Galway

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