Fantastic, unbelievable and totally unexpected


Kilkenny didn’t know what hit them – they had no shape, no pattern and no idea how to handle what Galway were throwing at them, writes NICKY ENGLISH

THE BEST thing you can say about Galway yesterday is that they were everything Kilkenny usually are and they did everything you would expect Kilkenny to do. They were powerful, they were skilful, they scored at will, they knocked back the opposition whenever the opposition had the ball. It was fantastic and unbelievable to watch and it was totally unexpected by everyone, including myself.

We were all talking before this game about how boring the championship was and how the shadow of Kilkenny hung over every game that was played. Well, Galway just blew it wide open.

People could not believe what they were watching. I was sitting beside some Galway supporters in the crowd and even when they were nine points up near the end, they were finding it hard to believe they were going to hold on. They were as shell-shocked as some of the Kilkenny players.

I felt the writing was totally on the wall for Kilkenny as early as five minutes into the game. Jackie Tyrrell came out with a ball in one of the early exchanges and was absolutely hammered by the Galway forwards. It was happening the whole time – Kilkenny couldn’t get the ball out past halfway.

Galway had conceded a hatful against Westmeath and Offaly but they were obviously on a mission here to prove that they could defend as a team. Kilkenny were hit by an avalanche of punches and by the time David Collins scored a great point to make it 1-6 to 0-0 after 18 minutes, there was no way back for them.

That opening period was the winning of the game. Galway dominated physically and they made it count on the scoreboard as well. Iarla Tannian and Andy Smith were well on top in midfield and their half-back line cleaned up. Then up front the two Burkes and Cyril Donnellan were excellent. But it was Joe Canning’s goal that really got them going and he led them all the way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look fitter and he gave a masterclass yesterday. He turned up in places on the pitch that you’d never see him and he was their talisman all day.

Kilkenny didn’t know what hit them. They had no shape, no pattern and no idea how to handle what Galway were throwing at them. Damien Hayes was causing them all kinds of trouble out around the middle and there were Galway players moving all over the place at huge pace and with huge power. That first 20 minutes was as good an exhibition of hurling as you could hope to see and it was played in horrible conditions as well.

Not only did they win all the 50-50 balls, they were winning 20-80 balls as well. It meant that when Kilkenny attempted a comeback later on, they had enough of a cushion to withstand it.

Even though they got a bit nervous in the second half, Galway were always able to answer when Kilkenny landed a blow. They scored the first point after both Kilkenny goals through David Burke and Damien Hayes and that 10-point margin was nearly always maintained.

As for Kilkenny, they’ve gone into matches before where nobody was giving the other team a chance and they’ve handled it well. After the Dublin match, everybody was over-confident on their behalf, including me. But they were hit so hard physically so early and scored on so heavily so early that they just couldn’t deal with it.

It was as if they took a knock-out punch in the first five minutes and spent the rest of the game trying to get up off the canvas.

They couldn’t get a shot on goal from play for the first 26 minutes, midfield was totally annihilated and up front some of the greatest forwards in the game couldn’t get their hands on the ball. The Kilkenny striking was poor, their touch was poor.

Even Tommy Walsh looked rattled, making a mess of a few sideline cuts in quick succession. With six minutes to go, Jackie Tyrrell hit a free up to Richie Hogan that should have been going long into the square but instead it went straight out over the sideline. Combined with Matt Ruth’s wide a few minutes later when he was through on goal, it summed up their day.

It really poses questions about some of their elder statesmen and the one sure thing is that they will need Michael Fennelly and JJ Delaney back if they’re to win the All-Ireland. They will have to get down and dirty if they’re going to find a way pull this one back.

We saw a different standard of hurling in Ennis on Saturday night. Clare won’t mind about that though because with all the young players they have, this was a fantastic result. To come through a game like that against what was until recently a top-four side with 14 men and a decent sprinkling of last year’s minors is some achievement.

The likes of John Conlon and Brendan Bugler epitomised the Clare spirit but some of the young guys coming through like Tony Kelly and Seán Collins stepped up as well. They’re young and have a lot to learn yet but they’ve great heart and a lot of skill.

On the Dublin side, it was the end of a really horrible season. They were in a winning position when they went five points clear with an extra man but ultimately their basic skills let them down again. They had to work too hard for scores. Some of the changes made during the match seemed a bit strange and they lost their way and shape the more the game went on. Their corner-back Niall Corcoran was their spare man and he was as potent an attacking force as they had.

They started the season thinking they could kick on and challenge Kilkenny but the whole thing has been a disaster for them. After the improvement of last year, this was a sad end.

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