Canning's nerves of steel earn Galway another tilt at the title


Galway 2-13 Kilkenny 0-19:LIGHTNING MAY not quite have struck twice but challengers Galway generated enough electricity to leave champions Kilkenny smouldering and more than a bit frazzled at Croke Park yesterday, as the GAA All-Ireland hurling final went to a replay for the first time since 1959.

Both sides will have their regrets after a tumultuous encounter that could have swung either way but judging by his animation levels – both at the decision to award Galway the vital free at the end and in trying to engage with his mostly uninterested counterpart Anthony Cunningham – Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and his team ended the match the more frustrated.

If history were to be made, it was expected that Henry Shefflin would win a record ninth All-Ireland medal.

In the end, no one did more to ensure that outcome than the towering Kilkenny forward himself, who as he had done in the Leinster final, galvanised his flagging team in the second half and finished with 12 points, but in the end he had joined Christy Ring and John Doyle as players to have ended an All-Ireland day, their quest for the ninth unsatisfied.

The big difference for Shefflin is that his day is not yet done.

The player many see as his successor in title as the most extravagant forward talent in the game, Joe Canning, carried Galway’s scoring burden and his perfectly flighted free squared the match in injury-time.

It was a gripping match, superbly refereed by Barry Kelly, who kept the pre-match apprehensions of a shlockfest well at bay, as to be fair did both teams.

When the counties met in last July’s Leinster final, Galway’s explosive opening effectively killed the match by the end of the first quarter. The focus of the previous few weeks had been how high a price the anomalously-western provincial champions might pay for this startling act of lese-majesty.

Unfazed Galway simply played it again: moving the ball quickly, breaking it in aerial contests and moving their forwards around at bewildering pace to create openings. For the first half, Kilkenny’s defence again looked like jaywalkers on the autobahn, trying to judge the situation and survive safely.

Once again Canning plundered an early goal, in the 10th minute, and once again Kilkenny were so off the pace that they were only a point better off by the 20th minute than they had been in the Leinster final – in other words with two rather than one registered.

Another parallel was that Shefflin wasn’t yet in top gear and missed two 65s – one after a strangely frantic decision to try for goal from a 16th-minute close-in free, which was saved.

More bad news for the champions was the manner in which their centrefield was again overrun with Iarla Tannian giving a season’s best display in the area even though Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly was back in harness, having missed the July match with injury.

Although Richie Hogan battled away at his side, Fennelly’s usual partner, the injured Michael Rice, was sorely missed.

It had also been believed that JJ Delaney’s return at full back would make things more complicated for Canning but that didn’t happen either and the Portumna forward roamed freely – his marker prevented as if by force-field from following him any deeper than the 65, from around where Canning rifled a point in the 11th minute.

A sequence of frees late in the first half helped to trim Galway’s interval lead to five, 1-9 to 0-7, but at that stage the match was theirs for the losing. And lose it they nearly did.

One critical distinction between the Leinster final and yesterday was that Galway hadn’t managed to stack up a ridiculous lead by half-time: five as opposed to 14.

It nearly wasn’t enough and the one-point extension, which was all they had to show for the entire third quarter, was dangerously inadequate in the face of the Shefflin-driven comeback, which saw the champions wrest back the lead by outscoring Galway 0-7 to 0-1.

Elsewhere Kilkenny also picked up. Brian Hogan had a storming second half, having endured a hard time initially on Niall Burke. Paul Murphy was excellent all the way through and by deploying Jackie Tyrrell to follow Damien Hayes, Kilkenny scored a most palpable reversal of the Leinster final by restricting the wandering corner forward’s influence.

The most obvious failing for Galway – one that Cunningham and his selectors will presumably spend the next three weeks analysing – was the familiar one of dropping back to protect their defence and then having no one up the field to whom to clear the ball.

Time and again, hard-won possession was belted up the field in the hopeful direction of a forward frequently surrounded by three defenders. For it to have even a serviceable chance of succeeding, Canning needed to replicate his Leinster final display of showing for and winning ball in the second half but he held a deeper position.

Niall Burke’s slightly fortuitous break in the 54th minute was none the less efficiently dispatched for a goal to restore the lead and the endgame threw up more chances for both teams. Twice more the champions regained the lead although Canning kept Galway afloat.

Goalkeeper Skehill also played a role by stopping Colin Fennelly’s gilt goal opportunity, even if he conceded a free by lying on the ball, and when Shefflin played the percentages on the 67th-minute penalty to push Kilkenny a point ahead, Galway were on the brink.

Shefflin had Kilkenny’s only wide of the half but when Canning from a free and Tannian hit wides, it looked as if the point might be enough. It wasn’t and the first replay in 53 years will be on September 30th.

Teams and scorers

KILKENNY: 1 D Herity; 2 P Murphy, 3 JJ Delaney, 7 K Joyce; 5 T Walsh, 6 B Hogan, 4 J Tyrrell; 8 M Fennelly, 9 R Hogan (0-1); 13 C Fennelly, 14 R Power (0-1), 15 A Fogarty (0-1); 11 TJ Reid (0-2), 12 E Larkin (0-2), 10 H Shefflin (0-12, 11 frees).

Subs: 23. M Ruth for C Fennelly (63 mins). Yellow cards: Delaney (30 mins), Walsh (52 mins), Joyce (53 mins), Tyrrell (73 mins)

GALWAY: 1 J Skehill; 2 J Coen, 3 K Hynes, 4 F Moore; 5 N Donohue (0-1), 6 T Regan, 7 D Collins; 8 I Tannian, 9 A Smith (0-1); 13 D Hayes, 11 N Burke (1-2), 12. C Donnellan; 10 D Burke, 14 J Canning (1-9, 0-8 frees), 15 J Regan.

Subs: 18 C Cooney for Regan (52 mins), 19 J Glynn for Cooney (61 mins), 17 J Cooney for N Burke (63 mins), 20 D Glennon for Hayes (69 mins). Yellow cards: Coen (35+ mins), Moore (36 mins), Smith (66 mins), Skehill (67 mins).

Referee: B Kelly(Westmeath).

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