Friday 15 November 2019

Tribesmen hoping that lightning can strike twice


September again, so it must be Kilkenny. The sight of those black and amber figures being spirited on to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day has become as routine as the Artane Boys Band or rain falling from an Irish sky.

Today, they are strong favourites to win a ninth All-Ireland hurling title under Brian Cody. Standing in their way are Galway, 24 years in waiting, who are being asked to defeat Kilkenny twice in the one season. The kind of lightning that doesn't tend to strike twice.

This will be Kilkenny's seventh consecutive All-Ireland final appearance but the story of the hurling year isn't without some novelty. In the Leinster final, Galway dumbfounded the odds and handed Kilkenny a hurling lesson, winning by 10 points, and denying them a score for 20 minutes.

That result had wider ramifications, ending a sequence of Kilkenny-Tipperary finals which have dominated the landscape for the last three years.

But the notion that Kilkenny were in decay has less currency now. In the semi-final they trounced Tipperary and they have a habit of wreaking vengeance on teams that have turned them over.

No county has addled them quite like Galway. In 2001, they were beaten while reigning All-Ireland champions and the defeat had a major influence on Brian Cody's approach over the rest of the decade.

It is hard to imagine now a Kilkenny team being physically blown away as they were that day 11 years ago when Galway won with 14 men.


They repeated the trick in 2005 with a stunning high-scoring win and this year's Leinster final gives them a return against Kilkenny in the championship no other county can rival. Few gave Galway much of a chance in that Leinster final against Kilkenny, who had stuffed them in the league, winning by 25 points at Nowlan Park in April. For good measure, they also doled out a tidy beating in the Walsh Cup at the start of the year when fielding a side packed with medal winners, the kind of assembly you might expect to be on duty in an All-Ireland final like today.

Instead of the expected Kilkenny win, Galway won their first provincial title and did so emphatically.

The championship offers respite to each faller and invariably that favours the stronger sides even if its intention was to give some aid to the less well-off. Kilkenny got up, locked the training gates to the outside world and hurled the demons out of their system. They weren't anything like themselves in the first half against Limerick at Thurles when they regrouped but they found some higher plane in the second half and won with plenty to spare.

Against Tipperary, there were plenty of doubts in circulation about their readiness. No fear. They ran Tipperary off the park and set up the rematch they'd have been dreaming of, another crack at Galway.

A Kilkenny win would mean a record ninth All-Ireland medal won on the field of play for the remarkable Henry Shefflin. This would put him ahead of the iconic figures of Ring and Doyle, who shared the distinction for decades and looked like they would never be surpassed.

While Kilkenny players have scores of All-Ireland medals, no player wearing a maroon shirt today has won one, and only a few have played in a final.

Galway will travel up this morning and check into the Regency Airport hotel on Dublin's northside where, win or lose, their banquet will take place this evening. They are having a light puck-around at the grounds of Na Fianna on Mobhi Road before heading towards Jones' Road and their hour of destiny.

As Kilkenny will sorely attest, they are a county truly capable of anything.

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