WHEN Galway led Kilkenny by seven points late in the first half of the drawn final, it looked very much as if they were poised to press on and bring Liam MacCarthy back west for the first time in 24 years.
When Kilkenny scored a string of points which wiped out Galway's lead in the second half, and then went ahead themselves, it looked as if the experienced campaigners would close out the deal, pick up the trophy and return home asking nonchalantly: "Why did anyone doubt us after the Leinster final"?
Those were two of several contrasts which the drawn final threw up and which add to the intrigue surrounding tomorrow's replay. In the cold, analytical light of day, both Anthony Cunningham and Brian Cody will have looked back on the drawn game with relief.
It's always disappointing for the team that concedes a late equaliser and uplifting for the team that saves the day, but it doesn't really matter in the long run. Sure, Kilkenny were on the verge of victory until Joe Canning slotted a late point, but have no doubt that Cody and Co would have been happy if told late in the first half that they would get out with a draw.
Cunningham wouldn't, believing that Galway had put down a solid platform, strong enough to sustain them through to the finish. However, he would have taken a replay when Kilkenny went ahead for the first time at the three-quarter mark as the momentum was very much with the Cats at that stage.
The trick with a replay is to learn from the drawn game, in particular, when it comes to cutting down on mistakes.
On that front, Galway had plenty to study from the second half. The standard of their ball-striking dipped alarmingly, both when it came to shooting for goal and in picking out Canning, who found it hard to get on the ball. Granted, Galway's delivery men were under far heavier pressure than in the first half, but they still should have been more accurate.
Hoisting balls in the general direction of the Kilkenny goal and hoping that Canning would get onto them didn't work. There's a limit to what even a forward of his calibre can do, and if there's little good ball flowing his way, he's going to be out of the game.
Henry Shefflin, who was such a huge influence in the second half, found himself in much the same position in the first half. He was far more dangerous in the second and came very close to settling yet another big game in Kilkenny's favour.
Still, Cody will be disappointed with the level of support Shefflin received. He had some very big names around him -- men who excelled in previous All-Ireland finals -- but they didn't assert themselves this time, no more than they did in the Leinster final.
Whether that's a sign of terminal decline or just a few blips which they will eradicate tomorrow remains to be seen.
Shefflin must be wondering why, at this stage of his incredible career, he has to be the main man all the time. Presumably, Cody will have made the same point rather forcibly to the rest of the Kilkenny attack.
The big imponderable about tomorrow's game is what will happen if it's Kilkenny who make a good start, opening up a six or seven-point lead in the first half? That would require Galway to push forward much more than has been necessary so far.
It's territory that Kilkenny will be very keen to force Galway into, to see how they would react. Kilkenny had to chase the Leinster final from so far back that it was never retrievable, and while they did complete the recovery in the drawn All-Ireland decider, they will be concerned by the broadly similar pattern the two first halves took.
Okay, so Galway weren't as far ahead in the drawn game as they were two months earlier, but they still gave themselves a sizeable advantage.
And if they had maintained their accuracy level in the second half, they would easily have scored another 1-9 (same as in the first half), which would have been more than enough for a comfortable win.
Damien Hayes must have been especially frustrated as he set up three or four scoring chances which weren't taken, and while some Galway supporters were critical of David Burke, I'd advise them to look back on the video to see how much ball he hit.
He was extremely busy, albeit a long way from the Kilkenny goal.
I fancied Galway to win the first game and I see no reason to change my mind. They were new to the All-Ireland final, but coped very well with the occasion.
There's a huge energy about them and if they can keep Canning in the game all through, he has the class and the temperament to make a match-winning difference.