Kilkenny display familiar old strengths as they book their final place
Henry Shefflin to the fore as determined second-half comeback proves too much for Galway
Kilkenny’s John Power catches a high ball over Ronan Burke and Johnny Coen of Galway during the National League semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Kilkenny 1-16 Galway 0-15
A minor revolution may have rippled through the hurling fields last summer but Kilkenny returned to defend their Allianz league title with an assured second-half revival against Galway. Bright Easter sunshine lit the Gaelic Grounds and although Brian Cody’s team was liberally sprinkled with newish names, the overall performance was familiarly effective.
Pressure, economy, neat touches; players taking care of their primary duties; a wound-up half back line and the intelligent play of Henry Shefflin were the traits which saw Kilkenny through here.
This restrained semi-final swung in the early stages of the second half as Kilkenny, who trailed 0-11 to 0-6 at the interval, laid siege on Colm Callanan’s goal for the five minutes preceding John Power’s crucial strike in the 54th minute.
It was the only goal of a game that was tight and cagey.
The Cats had levelled the match just eleven minutes after the restart when Pádraig Walsh ventured forward to clip a point. Kilkenny’s half back line was the engine room for their revival. Brian Hogan won possession and set up Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid for two quick points. Cillian Buckley was perfectly placed to clean up the increasingly stressed clearances from Galway’s overburdened defenders and deliver low, incisive passes for the Kilkenny forward line to work off.
Henry Shefflin fired four nimble points from play and set up Power with a wonderfully deft, squared pass which signalled it was only a matter of time before Kilkenny raised a green flag.
Johnny Coen made a terrific block on Power before the Carrickshock man finally got his goal to complete the overhaul and leave the Westerners trailing 1-13 to 0-12.
Kilkenny looked as if they fancied emptying the magazine after that but Galway’s stickiness ensured the scoring deluge never materialised.
That obstinacy may be the most notable aspect of Galway’s league season. Joe Canning started here but Anthony Cunningham’s decision to leave Conor Cooney on the frees was justified as the young St Thomas man converted five placed balls in the first half.
Goalkeeper Colm Callanan also got in on the long-range punishment, floating a 95-yard free into the sunshine as Galway made use of the breeze to establish a solid 0-11 to 0-6 interval lead.
The Galway defensive succeeded in limiting the sharp teeth of the Kilkenny attack to glimpses in the first half but over the course of the match Iarla Tannian’s presence was missed at centre back.
They were on the back foot throughout the second half, trying to play through a haze of black and amber pressure and therefore unable to deliver anything like enough ball for Joe Canning and his companions in the full forward line.
A David Burke point put just two points between the teams with five minutes left but Kilkenny still looked in firm control.
When they broke forward, Shefflin ghosted off TJ Reid’s shoulder to strike a point leaving a clear goal between the teams and dampening the prospect of any late drama.
Galway failed to ask deeper questions of the Kilkenny back line in the second half.
With Canning’s return, they fielded a physically imposing front three but were unable to isolate the Kilkenny defenders.
Jonathan Glynn won a fine ball late on and was instantly brought to ground by Paul Murphy. Conor Cooney drilled the free at the Kilkenny goalmouth but there were too many bodies on the line. Pádraig Brehony and Cathal Mannion, two of Galway’s brightest prospects in the league, found the going a little more claustrophobic here but Brehony was unlucky not to bag a couple of points during three first-half raids, the period during which Galway were on top.
Pádraig Walsh had a storming second half and added a grace note with a thunderous point in the 67th minute. It was the last score of the match.
Galway were chasing the unlikely by that stage and they exit the league leaving supporters less than clear about how well they are fixed for the summer ahead. Kilkenny’s bill of health was more easily read.
KILKENNY : E Murphy, P Murphy, JJ Delaney; B Kennedy; P Walsh (0-2), B Hogan, C Buckley (0-1); M Fennelly (0-1), R Hogan, W Walsh, C Fennelly (0-3) TJ Reid (0-5, 4 frees), J Power (1-0), M Kelly, H Shefflin (0-4). Subs : L Ryan for W Walsh (56 mins), A Fogarty for R Hogan (64 mins), J Farrell for C Fennelly (69 mins).
GALWAY : C Callanan (0-1 free); J Coen, R Burke, D Collins; A Harte, D Burke, J Cooney; A Smith (0-2), P Brehony; D Burke (0-1), C Cooney (0-8, 3 frees, 1 65), N Burke (0-1); J Canning (0-1), J Glynn, C Mannion (0-1). Subs : D Glennon for N Burke (45 mins), D Hayes for P Brehony (56 mins), K Hynes for A Smith (61 mins), J Flynn for C Mannion (68 mins).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).