Significance of Galway’s comeback will be apparent only after the replay

Kilkenny broke unwelcome new ground by losing a big lead but have their opponents a convincing second act?

Galway’s Joe Canning celebrates scoring the memorable late equalising point in the pulsating Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny at Tullamore. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway’s Joe Canning celebrates scoring the memorable late equalising point in the pulsating Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny at Tullamore. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:00

One of the chief characteristics of hurling is the manner in which it can take relatively small differentials on the field and turn them into substantial margins on the scoreboard.

On one level this is demoralising; on another it can help teams put indignity behind them, rationalising the sort of defeat that the Cavan sage PJ Carroll used to describe as “a notorious hammering” into sporting versions of the Just-A-Minute Quiz – questions that didn’t suit you on a given day.

It’s presumably what has given teams the strength to face Kilkenny in the past decade or so. A bad beating didn’t reflect what you were capable of and if things could be got right on the day, you’d never know what might happen.

Even this very provisional bravado could be difficult to whistle if anyone investigated the cold statistics. During their pomp Kilkenny hurlers lost just one match in nearly seven years, from the defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final on 25th August 2005 to the Leinster final on 8th July 2012 against the same opponents.

Even that out-of-the-blue mortar attack was ultimately avenged in the All-Ireland final replay 12 weeks later when Galway were handed their own notorious hammering to place amongst an extensive collection.

It’s no coincidence that any assessment of Kilkenny during the years in question must keep hearing Galway-based evidence. Of all the counties who have engaged with Brian Cody’s teams over the years Galway have been the most menacing.

Better record

Cork may have a better record against Kilkenny during that period but that’s largely to do with the ebb and flow of the teams’ fortunes. From Cody’s perspective – although I wouldn’t care to be framing the question for him quite like this – Galway are the scariest opponents simply because as half the crowd on Sunday seemed to be saying, no-one really knows what to expect.

So there we all were last Sunday in Tullamore, like so many Donald Rumsfelds, uncertain as to what familiar process we were about to witness; yet in the end it was none of the known unknowns that erupted in O’Connor Park.

There was no Galway tearing away through an avalanche of goals, taking a tight grip on the game or setting Kilkenny an impossible target. This was a nip-and-tuck match until the final quarter.

What happened next was all too familiar from a Galway perspective; in their previous four defeats in the fixture they have got into the second half and often up until around the final quarter still more or less in contention but on each occasion Kilkenny have put the foot down and motored into the distance, leaving the match dead as a contest.

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