Just how do you skin these Cats?
ALL-IRELAND HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP:It was back to business for Kilkenny last Sunday leaving the rest of the country to catch up
AS THE dust settles on the All-Ireland hurling championship, each county looks for small consolations. No team has progressed as rapidly as Galway did over the summer and even as they analyse the reasons for their defeat in last Sunday’s replay, they are entitled to take heart on several fronts.
Within the context of the game, there was that exhilarating and bewildering phase of play which started with Joe Canning’s sideline cut and ended with Cyril Donnellan getting sent off. In between, Canning fired a daisy-cutter which hit the post and would have brought the teams level on the scoreboard.
And in the post-mortem, it became obvious that Galway’s preparation for the match was nightmarish. Not only was goalkeeper James Skehill unfit to play, it emerged during the week that Canning himself also played through the replay while injured.
It was unreasonable to expect Galway to prosper without the Portumna man firing on all cylinders. And yet, something that Brian Cody said almost as an afterthought during the post-match interviews serves as the most chilling and accurate reflection on the last game of the championship season.
“I don’t think there was the slightest if-but-maybe about the game at all. And that is a fact.”
It is a fact. Even if Canning’s goal had gone in; but what would have happened if Donnellan had not been sent-off; maybe if Galway had got their noses in front, they would have driven on: all of those variables require a wildly optimistic narrative to see Galway winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
No, after enduring a summer in which their form fluctuated, it was back to business for Kilkenny in the defining match of the year. The novelty of what Galway did to Kilkenny in the Leinster final – pulling the defensive unit out of position, isolating their defenders and running at them, blowing them away on the scoreboard early on – was entirely absent.
Now, Kilkenny dictated the oxygen levels in the match and it was all the Galway defenders could do to just clear ball anywhere down field without being hooked or blocked or hunted down by the marauding Kilkenny forwards. More often than not the ball was returned with venom.
The biggest ovation that debutante Walter Walsh received was not for his goal and three points, but for bustling a Galway player over the line – for that, Henry Shefflin made a point of running over to the younger man and clapping him on the back. The tone was set and Kilkenny didn’t even blink when the Galway men conspired to sting them for two first-half goals in a minute.
Kilkenny just rolled on and the younger team never really got a chance to implement the game which had so bothered the champions in the Leinster final and saw them trail by seven points in the drawn All-Ireland final.
“All of their work-rate is geared to that intensity,” Tom Helebert, the Galway selector, would remark of the victors afterwards.
“It is sustained over time – it is not done over a short period. They have built it repetitively over time. New players are not rushed in. They are introduced carefully into
a stable working process and that is the advantage they have. It is easy to fringe the edges when you have a very strong core. That is where we are trying to get to.”