Tuesday 24 October 2017

Tribe tamed by hard work and Shefflin class

BRIAN CODY's hairdryer has been going for the last three weeks in Kilkenny, there is no doubt about it. He could have left the likes of Eoin Larkin and Richie Power on the bench after their performances in the drawn final alongside Colin Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty, but he stuck with them and gave them a second chance and they responded.

They are seasoned campaigners, they have been there before and, as captain, Larkin was there to show leadership. Those two guys were immense in the replay.

This was a lesson to us all that hurling is a game of hard work. They do it so, so well. They put so much pressure on Galway who were hooked, blocked and harried into giving the ball away. It was a masterful game by Kilkenny.

The Cats learned a lot more than Galway from the drawn final. They had three weeks to come up with a plan. They went away and did their homework; they were going to stick to their guns in a positional sense, they were going to work harder up front and they implemented it. Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and Kieran Joyce were left intact in the half-back line and their full-back line the same.

Outstanding

Henry Shefflin's magnificent achievement needs to be commended. To win nine All-Ireland medals is outstanding -- it will probably never be seen again.

It wasn't as if he was there for a token medal, he led the line and contributed massively to the performance. There wouldn't have been a replay without him and he was excellent yesterday, so we have to recognise that.

We were all saying to ourselves that if the Cats could not get the level of performance that Shefflin showed three weeks ago then that would be evidence that their standards were slipping.

There is no doubt that they have gone back from where they were a couple of years ago, but one or two changes every couple of years keeps them fresh.

Yesterday we saw Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh come in for Fogarty and Fennelly, and they had an impact.

The burning question is whether Cody and Shefflin will stay on -- because they have achieved so much, what is left to accomplish? There was a desire generated for the will to get Shefflin a ninth All-Ireland medal and that was the inspiration for the team.

I wrote on Saturday that a Walsh would make the difference, but nobody thought it would be Walter.

It was a masterstroke by Cody to put the youngster in. His presence alone gave the other players the freedom to express themselves. To contribute 1-3 on your debut in an All-Ireland final was outstanding. He was on Johnny Coen, who had been one of Galway's better defenders all year. Coen didn't get a puck of the ball. It was incredible.

For the last three weeks, we heard nothing from Kilkenny. Meanwhile, west of the Shannon in the build-up to the game we learned that James Skehill had injured his collarbone, Joe Canning hadn't trained all week. They are major distractions.

But you need luck to win All-Ireland finals and Galway didn't get any yesterday. When Galway got themselves back into the game, within three points of the Cats during the second half, they had chances to score a goal.

First, referee James McGrath gave a free as Cyril Donnellan was scoring a goal before Canning's low shot came off the post with David Herity beaten. Once Donnellan was sent off, that was it.

This was a memorable season for Galway, but I would like to see them attack more than they defend. That wasn't their downfall yesterday, but in the first game that was where they went wrong.

They must make up their mind where they want to play Canning. Is he a full-forward or a centre-forward or a wing-forward? You can't keep rotating him in the modern game. You will fool the odd opponent, but this was the third time they played Kilkenny and they learned from it, they copped on.

There are plenty of positives for them, but there are no guarantees that they will be back to do it again next year. Clare, Limerick and Cork are among the teams who will be stronger in a year's time.

If Anthony Cunningham can get some continuity, then they can have their day in the sun, but it won't be easy.

Irish Independent

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