Galway capable of upping their game but Kilkenny still get the nod
Brian Cody’s team seem to have bounced back from a poor 2013 championship and are entitled to favouritism
Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan: key performer up front. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
On all known form it’s hard to look beyond Kilkenny but back in 2012 I said before these counties met in the Leinster final that Kilkenny were operating on a different level to Galway and the Cats ended up taking a terrible hosing.
You never foresee when Galway are going to produce their best performances but they have most frequently been against Kilkenny and all of them out of the blue.
The momentum Galway developed in that match two years ago very nearly took them to an All-Ireland title and it was only in the replay – the teams’ third meeting in the championship – that Kilkenny appeared to work out how to deal with Anthony Cunningham’s team.
That has relevance for tomorrow because Brian Cody has suffered a few nasty surprises in this fixture over the years and Kilkenny will be well on their guard for this compared to 2012.
Both teams had really poor championships in 2013. Kilkenny at least won the league and had something to show for the year but Galway were terrible throughout.
Their seasons both ended on the same day in Thurles last year with Galway particularly poor and disjointed looking against Clare as the Tribesmen exited the championship without so much as a whimper.
Normal serviceThe question that obviously arose afterwards was whether 2012 had been a complete aberration on Galway’s part. They blew Kilkenny out of the water then and nearly won the All-Ireland but was 2013 just normal service resumed?
Joe Canning, their most important player, had a nightmare season last ye ar. The team as a whole didn’t perform and their use of the ball was particularly bad.
This year they had the distraction of Portumna winning another All-Ireland and, if that’s hardly a novelty, it delayed getting Canning back into the team. On the face of it, the big win in the league quarter-final looks promising given what Limerick have achieved since but I found their semi-final display against Kilkenny very disappointing.
They played with no discernible pattern and with an energy level more reminiscent of last year than 2012. As further evidence the flat display against Laois last year was all but replicated a few weeks ago.
Tomorrow they need to have a plan which will move Kilkenny around the place and their best displays have been based on creating space and movement.
Whereas last year Kilkenny were inclined to panic against Cork in Thurles – lacing the ball down into the forwards – and workmanlike but hit-and-miss in terms of possession against Waterford, against Offaly two weeks ago they seemed more aligned to the possession game in a Kilkenny version. They’re certainly not ignoring the trend towards protecting possession better and using the ball more effectively from defence.
The health warning is that they were getting lots of time to do this against Offaly and pick their passes but they were doing it with aplomb.
Fiercely importantTheir touch was good and they had more intricate combinations in attack. TJ Reid who wasn’t fully fit last year has become a fiercely important player for Kilkenny this year. He and Richie Hogan are the key performers up front. I also thought Eoin Larkin was good in both his touch and his movement.
The three of them have been adding up to something far more potent than anything we saw from Kilkenny’s forwards last year.
Again the health warning is that Offaly didn’t put any pressure on the delivery of ball into the forwards or the reception of it. Tullamore is not NowlanPark – where nearly all of Kilkenny’s best performances have come in the past year or so – and they also won’t be as comfortable there.
Michael Fennelly’s forced withdrawal is unfortunate news. Since becoming Hurler of the Year in 2011 he has been dogged by injury problems and really struggled to put a run of championship matches together. His and Henry Shefflin’s recurrent injuries are a real sign of the wear and tear on the team.
Without any apparently good reason I still expect Galway to give it a good rattle. I’m expecting them to hit the ground running and that will make it awkward and really test Kilkenny.
From Kilkenny’s point of view if they can come through a decent Galway test it will be a big win for them. I’m aware that two years ago I was totally wrong about this fixture but at the end of the day you can only go on form when forecasting results and Kilkenny’s form is way better.