Electric Galway leave Cats frazzled


Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11:ASTONISHMENT AND history rhymed at Croke Park yesterday, as the outcome only Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was laying claim to having feared came to pass. Galway, their old reputation for being capable of anything having given way to odds of 11 to 2, produced a blistering performance to frazzle the All-Ireland champions and relieve them of their provincial title.

After four years contesting Leinster on a trial basis, Galway made history with the victory, as the Bob O’Keeffe Cup – which hasn’t seen much novelty in the past 15 years – has now crossed the Shannon for the first time.

It was Kilkenny’s first defeat in the province in eight years and only their second since 1997. Galway also became the first county to defeat Kilkenny three times in championship fare during Brian Cody’s 14-year reign.

For this, their latest strike out of the blue, Galway had certainly worked hard at depressing expectation. As recently as March they had been ransacked by Kilkenny to the tune of 25 points and yesterday’s win at a sparsely populated Croke Park represented an extraordinary 35-point turnaround.

There was something not quite right about the champions. Rarely if ever have so many of their players been so subdued. Ominously, as they trailed by five in the 10th minute, Henry Shefflin – traditionally their chief trouble shooter – dropped a free short.

It would be another 10 minutes before he registered their first score, a free, and the 31st minute – by which stage they trailed by 16 (Sixteen!) points – before Richie Power shot their second point and first score from play.

So, to rewind – how did this happen? How did the team whose apparent certainty to win another All-Ireland was supposedly sucking the oxygen out of the hurling atmosphere find themselves heading for the county’s worst beating since Wexford took the then All-Ireland champions for a 17-point trimming in 1976?

Galway almost literally owned the ball in the opening quarter. Their forwards zipped around shooting scores from everywhere and Joe Canning, having a field day and the match’s most influential performer, was within three minutes isolated on the edge of the square with his marker Jackie Tyrrell by a booming delivery from Iarla Tannian – continuing to thrive at centrefield after a fitful career to date in the forwards.

Canning plucked it down and hammered in the first goal. Kilkenny were officially in trouble. The irony could hardly be lost on Cody. Seven years ago the absence of Noel Hickey at full back helped Galway to a blow the door of the safe the last time the westerners successfully raided Kilkenny.

This time Hickey was the replacement for an injured JJ Delaney but he was occupied by Conor Cooney, who took him away from the square. At times Kilkenny pulled back so many forwards that their much maligned defence – who had leaked seven goals in the matches against Offaly and Westmeath – were frequently on their own when ball came and had all the time in the world to clear, which Johnny Coen in particular was happy to do.

Galway were electric. Niall Burke hit two early points. Canning was six from six shots in the first half and Cyril Donnellan continued his hot form with a five-point total over the afternoon, including three in the first half.

David Burke had 1-1 before half-time – the goal dispiritingly unopposed from a Kilkenny perspective, as the Galway man took a fine clearance from wing back Niall Donoghue and outpaced two defenders including a thoroughly out-of-sorts Tommy Walsh – who also contrived to donate two sideline cuts to Canning, one of which was hoisted to Donnellan for an immediate point and the other which the Portumna shooter dispatched himself from around 70 metres.

Damien Hayes dropped out to around centrefield and played a hugely constructive role whereas his club mate Andy Smith had one of those days where the demands of a helter-skelter match perfectly suited his metier of direct running and hard yards.

Kilkenny had no answers. By half-time it was a 14-point game, 2-12 to 0-4. Still there was no relaxing amongst Galway supporters. In 2009 Kilkenny had reeled in an impressive opening and handed them their first Leinster defeat. In the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final shootout, a big scoreboard surplus was down to three by the whistle.

Donnellan extended the lead on the resumption but there was a Kilkenny response. Cillian Buckley, who battled away in midfield, dropped in a ball that Power caught and fed to Richie Hogan who goaled.

Anxieties were calmed as Galway answered with three straight points and there was no sense of lingering menace as Kilkenny struggled to establish a scoring rhythm to create the fear of a sustained comeback.

Instead Canning floated around in the winners’ attack, providing a target, and although he spoiled his perfect shooting stats with four wides he also slotted five points to keep his team comfortably in front.

Shefflin ghosted in under Richie Hogan’s dropping pass for the second Kilkenny goal to make it 2-6 to 2-16 but the margin never reduced below eight.

Galway manager Anthony Cunningham, for whom this represented a major coup, brought on young legs to maintain the pressure on Kilkenny. Five of his All-Ireland winning under-21 team started the match and another two came on from the bench.

Despite a number of wides, seven in the second half, Galway did enough scoring to prevent the margin tightening uncomfortably. Scoring concluded with a Canning free, earned after Hayes had audaciously flipped the ball over Richie Doyle only to be fouled.

GALWAY: 1 J Skehill; 4 F Moore, 3 K Hynes, 7 J Coen; 2 D Collins (0-1), 6 T Regan, 5 N Donoghue; 8 I Tannian, 9 A Smith; 11 N Burke (0-2), 10 D Burke (1-2), 15 D Hayes (0-1); 14 J Canning (1-10, 0-7 frees), 13 C Cooney, 12 C Donnellan (0-5). Subs: 22 J Glynn for C Cooney (53 mins), 21 J Regan for Tannian (57 mins), 25 T Haran for N Burke (61 mins), 17 J Cooney for Donnellan (71 mins). Yellow cards: Hynes (38 mins), Coen (54 mins), Collins (55 mins).

KILKENNY: 1 D Herity; 2 P Murphy, 17 N Hickey, 4 J Tyrrell 5 T Walsh, 6 B Hogan, 7 R Doyle; 8 C Buckley, 9 P Hogan; 10 H Shefflin (1-8, 0-7 frees), 11 TJ Reid, 12 E Larkin; 13 C Fennelly, 14 R Power (0-2), 15 R Hogan (1-0). Subs: 22 A Fogarty for Fennelly (23 mins), 23 M Rice (0-1) for P Hogan (27 mins), 21 M Ruth for Reid (57 mins). Yellow cards: B Hogan (46 mins).

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).

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