Tribe's quest coloured by brushes with black and amber
THE EXPERIENCE of losing to Galway in those cracking All-Ireland semi-finals of 2001 and 2005 means Kilkenny will always regard the maroon team as something of an incendiary device.
But if Galway have played a part in influencing the way Brian Cody has shaped Kilkenny, then it is just as true that the stripy men have had a huge influence on Galway’s fortunes since their last banner year in 1988.
Put simply, whenever Galway promised to turn a corner in the championship, they found Kilkenny waiting for them more often than not.
It is only five years since Galway hurling fans were treated to the novel sight of watching Brendan Lynskey taking a dive in Croke Park. The Meelick man was a selector then and his despairing flop on to the ground was caused by Eddie Brennan’s larcenous goal in the last 10 minutes of a furious quarter-final which saw the Cats break free in a cagey game to win 3-22 to 1-18.
The Ger Loughnane era arguably revolved around that game: it was as close as the Clare man would come to besting Cody’s Kilkenny.
“That’s why Kilkenny are one of the best teams in the country – and one of the best teams of all time,” Loughnane said admiringly afterwards. “Give them any space, any gap and show any lack of commitment and they will finish you off.”
Many managers have said that before and since and it hasn’t changed the truth of it. Two years later, the teams met again in their first Leinster championship encounter and John McIntyre’s first definitive championship test.
Again, the clash was memorable: a gorgeous summer evening in Tullamore and Damien Joyce setting the tone with an almighty clearance downfield clearance. Galway seemed to have the Kilkenny men on the rack for much of the game, with Joe Canning chipping in with 2-9 before Cody’s side gathered themselves and methodically went about turning a five-point deficit into a five-point advantage.
And it was an honourable, promising show by Galway but with the same result: lights out. When Galway last won the All-Ireland in 1988 to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup, they were fixated on Tipperary rather than Kilkenny. Galway were in control of their own destiny then and even if the next few seasons were turbulent – the bad blood semi-final against Tipperary in ’89, the goal-rush defeat to Cork in the final of 1990 – there was little to suggest in those seasons they were about to go through 20 years without a senior title.
But by the time they met Kilkenny in 1993, there was a slight anxiety in Galway that they were beginning to lose the knack of winning finals. Kilkenny went into that match as reigning champions and slight favourites and, as often between the counties, it was a close affair.
“We have lived with them on big occasions,” Jarlath Cloonan, manager that day, says now. “If you go back far enough, we beat them in 1987. We always respect Kilkenny very much because of their ability and their commitment to hurling. But we never fear Kilkenny. We were probably complete outsiders at the start of the campaign that year and our league was a total disaster.