Wednesday 13 December 2017

"They'll be hurting badly. They're trying to take Kilkenny into the All-Ireland semi-final for a 16th successive year. That's the standard they've set and that's the standard they want to maintain. The Leinster final is in the past but the chance to press on in the All-Ireland is still there."

MICHAEL KAVANAGH knows exactly what it's like to be trapped in the eye of a Galway tornado.

It happened him twice, first in 2001 when a Galway team which had corner-back Gregory Kennedy sent off before half-time blew Kilkenny's ambitions of retaining the All-Ireland title into oblivion and again in 2005, when they were hit for 5-18 in the semi-final.

So, when Galway scored 1-6 without reply in the opening quarter of the Leinster final three weeks ago, Kavanagh (below) suspected the worst.

"I know these lads (Kilkenny) and what they're capable of but you could tell from fairly early on that it was going to be one of those days," he said. "Galway were out of the traps so quickly, got some early scores and once that started happening, everything broke their way.

"Look, we'd be the first to pay tribute to Galway for the way they played. They were brilliant and even if Kilkenny brought their top game with them that day, it would have been very hard to win. Still, you'd like to have seen it all the same -- our lads playing the way they can and Galway playing the way they were."

Like so many other Kilkenny people, he knew the Leinster title was gone from a long way out but, unlike the vast majority, he has personal knowledge of what the players were experiencing. It has left him convinced that they will be back, even more driven than before.

"They put in a huge effort in the second half but the lead was so big that even when we got the goals, all Galway had to do was keep knocking over a few points. Once they did that, they were safe," he said.

The fact that Kilkenny surrendered the Leinster title for the first time since 2004 has been largely forgotten as a new debate opened up on what the immediate future holds. It gives an insight into Kilkenny's thinking that Kavanagh, whose inter-county career ran from 1998 to last year, mentions it as a big disappointment, even if it doesn't substantially interfere with their All-Ireland ambitions.

"We always want to win Leinster and not just because it takes you straight through to the All-Ireland semi-final. It's a trophy to be won so you do the best you can to win it."

The big difference between Kilkenny's most recent defeat by Galway and their setbacks in 2001 and 2005 is that this one didn't blow them completely off the All-Ireland track. It has lengthened and toughened the course (they play Tipperary in the semi-final if they beat Limerick) but their psyche is geared for durability and Kavanagh believes they will be ready for whatever is thrown at them.

"Knowing them, they'll be hurting badly. I don't think anyone would ever doubt the character that's in that squad. Brian (Cody) and the rest of the management will have worked things through with them so they'll all be ready for another huge effort," said Kavanagh.

Still, notwithstanding Galway's excellence in the Leinster final, questions continue to be asked as to how Kilkenny were out-gunned so comprehensively. Was it a case of a collective belief that things would fall into place automatically against opposition which had given no real indication they were about to deliver such a high-octane performance? Perhaps even a case of over-confidence?

"Definitely not over-confidence. That's not the way the lads think," Kavanagh said. "But it can be hard when supporters and the media keep saying you're certainties to win. These lads are living around Kilkenny so they're hearing it all the time.

"Then you had Galway coming in quietly under the radar. It was all nicely set up for them and, as we've seen before, when they hit one of those days, they take some stopping."

That's all in the past now as the focus switches to tomorrow's clash, where Limerick are first up to test Kilkenny for post-traumatic stress. The general view is that Kilkenny will deliver a massive backlash but Kavanagh doesn't see it in terms of a squad going out to prove anything.

"They're trying to take Kilkenny into the All-Ireland semi-final for a 16th successive year," Kavanagh added. "That's the standard they've set and that's the standard they want to maintain. The Leinster final is in the past but the chance to press on in the All-Ireland is still there. They'll be mad keen to get on with it."

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