Kilkenny starting to look like the force of old again
Kilkenny 1-16 Galway 0-15 Allianz NHL div 1 Semi-final
Stories of revolution never quite reach Brian Cody's ears, the gossip of change is inclined to leave him cold.
His management remains an eternal essay in self-trust and equanimity. This game will, in time, blur into a thousand others, just a simple gateway for Kilkenny into their 10th National League final in 13 seasons. Yet, it confirmed, too, the project of reinvention now happening under Cody.
On the run, he is rebuilding perhaps the best team ever seen.
In victory, they became the first county to reach four consecutive league finals since the 1950s and will now seek to emulate their final opponents on Sunday week, Tipperary, as the first county to win three-in-a-row since '61.
They took Galway's best punches yesterday without ever looking as if their legs might grow unsteady. It wasn't exactly easy. Had Conor Cooney goaled a 70th-minute 20-metre free, we might just have been granted an operatic finish. But, since the 2012 Leinster final, Galway's recent history (one draw, one win, four losses) against Kilkenny is one, largely, of a recurring migraine.
And here, they lacked any compelling evidence of belief that that history would soon be behind them.
The key score was a 54th-minute goal by John Power, younger brother of Richie, just when the Carrickshock kid must have been wondering if he'd fallen under some silent Gaelic Grounds curse. Up to that point, everything he did seemed to fall foul of gentle grasshopper flicks and gusting wind currents.
Nicky English's old line about ducks being doomed to drown in his care came to mind just seconds earlier as young Power – swinging one-handed – just failed to get on the end of one of many sublime Henry Shefflin deliveries from the left wing. Power was playing well, just not productively.
Yet, for all that discouragement, he took the goal marvellously, fetching a long Eoin Murphy free and rifling to the net with a natural sniper's venom.
Until then, Galway were probably giving as good as they got, though the momentum taken from a 12-minute surge approaching half-time – in which they out-scored Kilkenny 0-6 to 0-1 – had been largely surrendered by the decision for their half-forwards to retreat deeper on the resumption.
Galway led 0-11 to 0-6 at the midpoint but a strong wind blowing towards the Ennis Road had helped them get there. Kilkenny would need that assistance for just 10 minutes to level the match and – thereafter – always looked the more likely to win.
For Cody, it seemed less a game than a process then as he watched a reconstructed backline cope more than adequately with a Galway attack in which Joe Canning had started. For the most part, Canning found himself in the care of young Brian Kennedy and the outcome wasn't what might have been predicted.
Kennedy had a fine game, yet it was the young tyro at right-half back, Padraig Walsh, who earned most kudos, delivering a man-of-the-match performance from No 5, the normal jurisdiction of older brother, Tommy. Asked later if this might be the end of Tommy Walsh at five, he cackled at the very thought of it.
"I don't know about that," said Padraig, "he'll give it a hard go I'd say!"
Cillian Buckley was outstanding too at seven, lending colour to the notion that Kilkenny are replenishing their back division, above all, with young legs. Jackie Tyrrell was injured yesterday, Tommy Walsh and Kieran Joyce sat on the bench. Brian Hogan started, yet it was clear that Galway believed running down the centre-half's throat might be a profitable tactic.
On the day, that didn't quite prove the case but Hogan will undoubtedly be feeling a cold breath on his neck.
Anthony Cunningham had reason to be pleased with his team defensively, particularly at full-back and centre-back where Ronan Burke and Daithi Burke respectively offered a solid central spine.
The worry for him is that, facing the breeze, they lacked any coherent attacking threat, depending instead on the consistent excellence of Conor Cooney who was – by some distance – Galway's best forward. True, there was a vital four-point swing in the 50th minute when Canning's gorgeous line cut was batted against the crossbar by David Burke and, from the clearance, Colin Fennelly pointed at the far end.
Yet, bearing in mind that Kilkenny went to battle without men like Eoin Larkin, Richie Power and Michael Rice, their scope for attacking improvement seems far greater than Galway's.
As it happened, the venerable Shefflin played splendidly, scoring 0-4 from play and drawing one foul from David Collins in the air that he clearly believed merited more than the yellow card brandished by James McGrath. Shefflin's fourth score, an arcing 70-yard monster from under the Mackey Stand, drew the deep, guttural roars of a people recognising greatness.
That arrived in the 66th minute and was quickly followed by a second from Padraig Walsh, Kilkenny closing out the game without much apparent fuss.
There were no backslaps when it ended, no rising din of celebration. Cody just shook the hands he needed to, then turned back towards the stand. The game, he is told, keeps crying out for different thinking now.
And, endlessly, he smiles that enigmatic smile. As if he has heard it all before.
SCORERS – Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-5 (4fs), H Shefflin 0-4, C Fennelly 0-3, J Power 1-0, P Walsh 0-2, C Buckley, M Fennelly 0-1 each. Galway: C Cooney 0-8 (3fs, 1 '65'), A Smith 0-2, David Burke, N Burke, J Canning, C Mannion, C Callanan (f) 0-1 each.
KILKENNY – E Murphy 7; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 7, B Kennedy 8; P Walsh 9, B Hogan 6, C Buckley 8; M Fennelly 7, R Hogan 6; W Walsh 6, C Fennelly 7, TJ Reid 7; J Power 7, M Kelly 6, H Shefflin 8. Subs: L Ryan 6 for W Walsh (55), A Fogarty for Hogan (64), JJ Farrell for C Fennelly (69).
GALWAY – C Callanan 7; D Collins 6, R Burke 8, J Coen 7; A Harte 7, Daithi Burke 7, J Cooney 7; P Brehony 6, A Smith 7; N Burke 6, C Cooney 9, David Burke 7; J Canning 6, J Glynn 7, C Mannion 6. Subs: D Glennon 6 for N Burke (45), D Hayes 7 for Brehony (55), K Hynes for Smith (61), J Flynn for Mannion (67).
Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath).