All is utterly transformed as Cats run wild while Galway disintegrate
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 3-22:IF THIS year’s All-Ireland hurling final had been treated as an episode of The Twilight Zone, it might well start with a freeze frame of Joe Canning addressing the free that took the original match to a replay.
What was better? Go close and lose surprisingly narrowly, regroup and go again. Or force the draw and take the consequences: initially some days of controversy followed by disintegration in the replay and a double-digit beating?
Kilkenny were transformed for yesterday’s renewal of hostilities and improved in virtually every sector.
Organised and inspired by Henry Shefflin, the champions emphatically nailed down back-to-back All-Irelands – and their first through the qualifiers – and it was fitting that the Ballyhale icon became the first man in the history of Gaelic games to win nine All-Ireland medals as a starting player.
He has now taken the field for all of Brian Cody’s 62 championship matches as manager and together they have created the game’s most successful collective.
Scan the field and note the difference.
Kilkenny’s defenders held their position and didn’t follow their men but instead controlled their zone and did so efficiently and without fuss. Once again Paul Murphy was immense and if anything sums up the strength of Kilkenny it’s the form of this defender who came in last year, played sufficiently well to win an All Star and will at least hold that status this season.
When confounding Kilkenny in the two championship matches to date, Galway had built their case on rampant starts to the Leinster final and to a lesser extent the drawn All-Ireland. That was thwarted yesterday and from the start Kilkenny held the initiative.
Galway had struggled to keep Joe Canning involved for 70 minutes in the drawn match and yesterday were unable to change that and, far from finding a convincing second half, he was quieter than normal even in the early stages and hurled a fair bit in a deeper position.
Cody’s centrefield surgery worked well and Cillian Buckley gave an energetic performance scoring an important point to kill Galway’s momentum after Joe Canning had hit the post with a goal opportunity, which might – however improbably – have levelled the scores in the 48th minute and defending well enough to cut out a goal chance for Cyril Donnellan at the end of the first half. More influentially Michael Fennelly was back closer to his Hurler of the Year form and Galway’s dominance in the middle in the previous two matches was eradicated.
Galway did create their chances and the goals that have always provided the oxygen for their more exuberant performances did actually come but on this occasion they were merely keeping the patient alive rather than fuelling a convincing challenge.
David Burke got two in two minutes, touching Iarla Tannian’s dropping ball into the net in the 15th and in the 17th finishing off a well-constructed move between the three full forwards at the time.
It was however noticeable that Kilkenny responded with reflexive alacrity when they conceded: a point from TJ Reid and a goal from Richie Power coming within a minute of each concession.
Kilkenny’s forwards all scored from play in what was a significantly intensified challenge. Shefflin again manned the 40 but on this occasion he was commanding a crew rather than standing on the burning deck with a bucket of water.
Pride of place in the supporting cast has to go to the under-21 player Walter Walsh, who made his first championship appearance yesterday and finished up with 1-3, his physical presence and enthusiasm playing its part in the transformation of the attack.
There was however no fairytale remedy for the misfortune that caused Galway goalkeeper James Skehill to dislocate his shoulder in the very last training session on Friday.
He was named to start but looked uncomfortable from the beginning and was replaced at half-time.
By then, despite not scoring a single point from play – the first arrived in the 39th minute from Andy Smith – Galway were still within a relatively respectable four points.
Galway’s ability to open up Kilkenny kept them in the game until the final quarter but a whirl of activity up to the 49th minute killed their challenge.
Cyril Donnellan was called back after scoring a goal and Galway awarded a free.
Referee James McGrath had audibly blown his whistle but Donnellan may have been frustrated as he had struck wide in the ninth minute have been played an advantage.
Joe Canning then whipped a chance against the post with just three in it but Cillian Buckley then pointed at the other end in yet another quick-fire response. Then Barry Kelly, referee of the drawn match and linesman yesterday, drew McGrath’s attention to Donnellan for having struck JJ Delaney after the ball had gone.
Down to 14 men, Galway’s cause was now hopeless. They watched as Kilkenny pulled them apart, out-scoring their opponents 2-7 to 0-1 in the 15 minutes to the 62nd.
Walsh got his goal after replacement goalkeeper Fergal Flannery had blocked Reid’s shot but couldn’t prevent the rebound. Kilkenny replacement Colin Fennelly got the third and although another substitute, Galway’s Jonathan Glynn got a third for his team, the champions were already steaming towards an 11-point victory.
So two crushing victories in the league and All-Ireland finals for Kilkenny and in between some uncharacteristic wobbles: Crisis? What crisis.