Sport Hurling

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Top cats peerless leaders of pack

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

DIFFERENT time of the month, different circumstances but the same familiar conclusion to the hurling season as Kilkenny re-stamped their brand on an All-Ireland championship which they marked with two additions to the history books.

Henry Shefflin took his imperious career into new territory by becoming the first player in GAA history to win nine All-Ireland medals, having started in them all and, on the broader front, Kilkenny won the title via the qualifiers for the first time after losing the Leinster final to Galway.

The symbolism of their victory was unmistakable as it meant they not only avenged the 10-point Leinster final setback against Galway but inflicted a heavier defeat than they themselves had suffered in July.

For Galway, it was a stark re-unification with reality after a campaign which presented them with every opportunity to end the 24-year wait for a fifth All-Ireland win.

That opening came in the drawn game when they led by seven points late in the first half but, having failed to take it, they left themselves exposed to the force of nature which is Kilkenny on full power.

The early scoring deposits enabled Galway to survive in the drawn games but there was no escape yesterday as Kilkenny herded them into the torture chamber for a severe beating.


And even when they weren't being whipped by Kilkenny, they took to punishing themselves. Cyril Donnellan brought the wrath of referee James McGrath down on himself in the 49th minute for a strike on JJ Delaney, prompting dismissal on a straight red card.

It came at a time when Galway had re-established a level of momentum but it quickly evaporated after Donnellan's departure, leaving Kilkenny to see the game out to an inevitable conclusion.

They outscored Galway by 2-8 to 1-4 over the final 20 minutes, the goals coming from Walter Walsh (58) and sub Colin Fennelly (62).

It brought Walsh's total to 1-3, a superb return for an U-21 player making his senior debut.

Drafted in as part of Brian Cody's realigned attack, Walsh made an early impression when he popped over Kilkenny's third point in the 12th minute and continued to present the Galway full-back line with a range of problems they hadn't encountered in either of their two previous championship clashes with Kilkenny.

Walsh left the pitch to a grateful ovation from the Kilkenny supporters a minute after scoring his goal, having been replaced by Colin Fennelly who later became the 10th black-and-amber sniper to hit the target. All six starting forwards, both midfielders and left half-back Kieran Joyce also scored in a strike-fest which Galway came nowhere close to matching.

And while Galway will feel that they were in with every chance of winning until Donnellan was sent off, the underlying trend suggests otherwise. Granted, Galway had enjoyed a progressive spell immediately prior to Donnellan's departure, having scored two points and being desperately unlucky not to land two goals.

Donnellan scored a goal in the 44th minute but referee James McGrath whistled back play and awarded a free in to Galway, a decision which effectively rewarded the offender rather than the victim.

Quite why referees refuse to adopt a more liberal approach to bestowing the advantage on the fouled player in that type of situation remains one of the sorrowful mysteries of officiating.

It's an affront to common sense that a forward who scores a goal just after being fouled is punished, while the offender gains two points for his side as the free is usually struck over the bar.

Galway's ill-luck struck again in the 48th minute when Joe Canning's rasping shot cannoned back off an upright and from the ensuing play, Kilkenny broke downfield and Cillian Buckley pointed. If Canning's shot had hit the net, it would have brought the sides level but instead Buckley's point left Galway with a four-point deficit.

They were still very much in contention but that ended a minute later when Donnellan's act of folly left them short-handed and facing a long, lonely road home.

It had all looked so different at the end of the first quarter after David Burke had struck for two goals in two minutes to leave Galway leading by 2-2 to 0-5 after 17 minutes.

His first goal came off a deft flick from an Iarla Tannian delivery while the second was the result of an enterprising build-up.

Galway's three-point lead was against the run of play as Kilkenny had been the better side through the opening exchanges. In those circumstances, it was no surprise that their response to Galway's double-blast was quick and effective.

Richie Power whipped home Kilkenny's first goal in the 19th minute and Kilkenny then proceeded to shoot six unanswered points.

It left them with a 1-6 to 0-0 return over seven minutes and while Canning pared two points off the lead, Galway were still facing a five point deficit -- 1-11 to 2-4 -- at the interval.

They had led by 14 and five points respectively at half-time in their previous two clashes with Kilkenny but were now in new, dangerous territory with little experience of how to find an exit.

Still, they were working diligently in pursuit of salvation until Donnellan's dismissal switched off the lights.

Galway had started the second half without goalkeeper James Skehill who was feeling the ill-effects of the shoulder injury sustained in training on Friday night.

He was replaced by Fergal Flannery, who acquitted himself well, having got an early test when Richie Hogan bore down on goal straight from the throw-in.

Donnellan's departure was certainly a key moment but Galway's debrief will need to focus on a whole lot more than that. Under Shefflin's inspiring leadership, Kilkenny had scoring fluidity coming off every angle whereas Galway were all too predictable.

Canning did his best to provide a focal point but, with much less possession emerging from the middle third than in previous games, he was forced way out from the Kilkenny goal, which removed him as a goal threat.

The scoring stats underline the extent of Galway's problems. Canning's 70th-minute point was their first from open play by a starting forward.

He added a second just before the finish, bringing Galway's total return from play by the starting six forwards to 2-2.

The rest came from centre-back Tony Og Regan, midfielder Andy Smith, sub Jonathon Glynn and from Canning placed balls.

It was all so different to Kilkenny, whose scoring capacity was immense. They exploited it to the full on a day when they won their ninth All-Ireland title in 13 seasons.

Truly, a remarkable record and, on the basis of yesterday's performance, there may be a whole lot more to come.

Scorers -- Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-9 (5f, 2 '65s'), W Walsh 1-3, R Power 1-2, C Fennelly 1-0, R Hogan 0-3, TJ Reid, E Larkin, C Buckley, M Fennelly, K Joyce (f) 0-1 each. Galway: J Canning 0-9 (5f, 1 '65', 1 s-l), D Burke 2-0, J Glynn 1-0, A Smith, T Og Regan 0-1 each.

Kilkenny -- D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; M Fennelly, C Buckley; E Larkin, H Shefflin, TJ Reid; W Walsh, R Hogan, R Power. Subs: C Fennelly for W Walsh (59), N Hickey for Joyce (65), A Fogarty for Reid (66).

Galway -- J Skehill; F Moore, K Hynes, J Coen; D Collins, T Og Regan, N Donohue; I Tannian, A Smith; N Burke, D Burke, J Canning; J Regan, C Donnellan, D Hayes. Subs: J Cooney for Donohue (28), J Glynn for J Regan (34), F Flannery for Skehill (h-t), C Cooney for N Burke (52), D Glennon for Smith (64).

Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath)

Irish Independent

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