Galway dig deep to produce crazy finale against Kilkenny

Tribesmen recover from 10 points down with seven minutes left to force replay

Galway’s Ronan Burke and Fergal Moore tussle with Mark Kelly and Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny. Photograph: Inpho

Galway’s Ronan Burke and Fergal Moore tussle with Mark Kelly and Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny. Photograph: Inpho


Hurling’s facility for serving up days of giddy illogic endures. Kilkenny and Galway tumbled through the sky here like tangoing parachutists, somehow landing back on earth as one after a game of brazen unpredictability. It finished Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 5-16 and even then, the fattened totals only tell a bit of the story.

The best of it was the end of it. A breathless, deathless last 40 seconds in which Henry Shefflin won it for Kilkenny and Joe Canning saved it for Galway. Their points were virtual camera negatives of each other, from more or less the equivalent spot on either end of O’Connor Park. Both on the run, both off their less natural side (it would be a grievous libel to call it their weaker one), both at an angle from close to the sideline. The best at their best when only the best would do.

“Two top players,” purred Brian Cody afterwards, as Tullamore hummed with 12,548 different attempts to explain what we’d just seen.

“Everyone knows that, everyone knows the quality of both players. Two super points. Ordinary players would have found it difficult. Neither of those players are ordinary, they just popped them over the bar.”

Out the gate

Glorious as both intercessions were, not a soul in the ground could have envisaged the need for them even just five minutes earlier. This was over. Done. Out the gate and away home.

TJ Reid’s seventh successful free of the day put Kilkenny 10 points to the good in the 63rd minute. It meant that they had just put 1-8 on the board without a Galway score to interrupt them, as classically Kilkenny a burst of game-set-and-match as you could wish to see.

We shrugged and set about telling the tale of a Kilkenny side that was back, one that was reanimated and refreshed and looking ominously well-appointed for the time of year. One that had come through a first half grapple of raw-boned intensity with honours even before moving through the gears as the third quarter gave way to the fourth.

Another generation

It was going to be a story of Cody’s ability to create yet another team for yet another generation. Of Richie Hogan’s reinvention as an all-action midfielder, responsible for five points of Kilkenny’s gaudy total. Of Tommy Walsh’s rage against the dying of the light, his 27-minute cameo at wing-forward crucial to Kilkenny’s best period. Of Colin Fennelly’s selfless hooking and blocking to go with the 1-3 he stitched into the day.

Beyond Cody’s side, it was going to be a story of another Galway season that looked bound for deflation. Of a willingness to go toe to toe but a fatal weakness for leading with a glass chin. Of another day where Joe Canning was heroic in a losing cause. Not quite the same old same old but close enough to it for the nuances to get lost in the hubbub.

With Kilkenny 3-20 to 2-13 ahead, Cody sent Shefflin in off the bench for the last seven minutes. Any Galway people half-intending to head for the cars had their mind made up for them when the change was announced over the PA. A 10-point lead and Shefflin comes on. The decadence of it.

And then. Out of nowhere, Galway dragged a response. Canning had spent most of the day out around the middle but now he went to the edge of the square and drew a blinding save out of Eoin Murphy. Conor Cooney pointed the 65 and Jason Flynn followed it with a point of his own but we assumed this was window dressing.

The notion that they could be the first falling pebbles of an avalanche simply didn’t arise.

Even when Cooney managed to burgle a goal – again, with Canning as safecracker – all it did was reduce the margin to six points with three minutes left. Galway were motoring but they were running out of road. The game looked gone.

“It did,” agreed Anthony Cunningham afterwards. “We said at half-time there were goals here but once we got the first one it gave us the chance to get the other two. Then we got in for the second one and then there is only a goal in it. And always when there is only a goal in it in championship, anything can happen.”

And happen it did. Kilkenny were looking decidedly rickety in their full-back line now, with Canning, Flynn and substitute Jonathan Glynn all proving variously difficult to contain.

Glynn had already earned a penalty when straight through in the 50th minute, from which Canning nailed his first goal of the day. And when another hopeful delivery rained down on the Kilkenny full-back line now, it was Cooney who turned and whipped on the loose ball. A minute to go, a goal between them.

Mainlining tension

It was see-ball-hit-ball stuff now. Players mainlining tension. Even as reliably clear a thinker as Paul Murphy got caught in the frenzy, sending an aimless ball into the Galway full-back line where there was no Kilkenny player to receive it. Out came full-back Ronan Burke to send it back 80 yards down in front of the Kilkenny goal.

Glynn got on it and bore down on Eoin Murphy. Before he cocked the trigger, Cillian Buckley hurtled in from stage right to drag him down.

Penalty. Canning. Goal. All square. Madness.

If the curtain had dropped there and then, the crowd would have tossed their bouquets with full hearts. But there will still time for Shefflin to make us wonder would we ever see a player like him again. And for Canning to remind us that we already can.

Back to Tullamore next Saturday, then. Back for the simple, unknowable delight of a game that still finds new ways to surprise and amaze. Bliss.

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