TJ Reid the difference as Kilkenny overcome Galway in Leinster final

Henry Shefflin and Brian Cody’s handshake earns biggest cheer of the evening

Kilkenny 0-22 Galway 0-17

You’ll want to know about the handshake. Well, it took a while but it came in the end.

When the final whistle went and the Kilkenny roar went up to greet a third Leinster title on the bounce, Brian Cody turned to his left and embraced his selector Martin Comerford. And then James McGarry. And then apparently every other Kilkenny backroom member and player and official in the place. The odd Galway player too.

Down the sideline, Henry Shefflin stood rooted to the spot. With every eye in the stadium on them, neither man so much as looked sideways. Eventually, a good five minutes after the final whistle, as the Kilkenny panel moved towards the Hogan Stand for the presentation, Shefflin walked to the middle of the group and offered his hand to Cody. It got one of the biggest cheers of the night.

Of course, the fact that a handshake can qualify as the best source of entertainment is a fairly damning indictment of the fare on offer. Nobody will write poems about this Leinster final. Kilkenny ground it out through dogged defending, ferocious work and the catching and free-taking of TJ Reid. It says nothing good about Galway that this combination was enough to beat them.

“Yeah, disappointment is the over-riding emotion,” Shefflin said afterwards. “It was a disappointing result but more so, a very disappointing performance. That’s probably the thing that hurts the most because if you go out and you lose a big game, but you perform to somewhat close to your capabilities, you don’t feel too bad. But if you don’t perform at all it’s very disappointing, so that’s what hurts the most.”

That’s the thing. Odd as it may seem for a game Kilkenny won by five points, Galway can feel they left this behind them. They had more wides than Kilkenny, butchered more goal chances – two Eoin Murphy saves denied them – and never got a handle on the wind. At times it seemed as if Kilkenny had no route to the scoreboard other than raining ball down on Reid and hoping he could engineer a free. But he could and he did and precisely because it was a club Galway didn’t have in their bag, it made all the difference.

It was a bitty, halting evening all round. The empty stadium, the late evening start, a querulous wind that whipped and swirled across the pitch – take your pick for the culprit. None of it helped. Kilkenny looked to have found a groove in the opening quarter-hour, pushing 0-8 to 0-4 ahead after the early exchanges. The strength of the wind at their backs was advertised by points from distance for Paddy Deegan (twice) and Adrian Mullen. Not an opened shoulder between them.

Galway were able to hang in though. Cianan Fahy was game at full forward, bucking his way through for a score on 26 minutes after doing magnificently to keep the ball in on the Hogan Stand sideline. Conor Cooney iced his frees and swished a gorgeous sideline ball to bring Galway back within a point. Two Reid frees pushed Kilkenny further ahead but Cooney finished out the scoring with a 65 to make it 0-11 to 0-9 at the break.

At that point, it appeared that all Galway would need in the second half were cool heads and sensible choices and the wind would do the rest for them. When Conor Whelan sprang from the traps with a couple of scintillating scores soon after the restart, you’d have struggled to find many in the ground to back against them from there.

But Kilkenny just pursed their lips a little tighter, pawed the earth a little harder and bore down for the journey home. Reid didn’t manage a score from play at any stage but his ball-winning was the difference between the sides. Neither team played with any fluency or prettiness to their patterns but when a ball absolutely, positively had to be won, Reid got up and won it and gave Kilkenny an outlet Galway didn’t have. On top of which, his free-taking was exemplary.

At the other end, Galway were snatching at their chances and not taking their time to find space. The wind ought to have been an extra man, had they been patient enough to work their chances. But instead, Cooney, Fahy and Pádraic Mannion all whipped snapshots that tailed off.

When yet another Reid free pushed Kilkenny 0-20 to 0-15 ahead on the hour mark, it was the first five-point lead of the night. Cooney and Mannion stroked over frees to get it back to three but there was never a sense that a goal was on the menu.

“We won by five points so that’s something,” said Cody afterwards. “Obviously, we’ll look back at the game and we’ll look at ways … will we have to improve to win the semi-final? Nothing surer. That’s the nature of championships. The further you go, the more is required of you.”

KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Mikey Carey, Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan (0-2); Conor Fogarty, Adrian Mullen (0-4); Billy Ryan (0-1), TJ Reid (0-12, 11 frees, one 65), Richie Leahy (0-1); Cian Kenny, Martin Keoghan (0-1), Eoin Cody.

Subs: Walter Walsh for Ryan (blood, 27-30 mins); Conor Delaney for Butler (blood, 28-35); Conor Browne for Kenny (h-t); W Walsh for Leahy (45); Pádraig Walsh (0-1) for Ryan (54); John Donnelly for Keoghan (60).

GALWAY: Eanna Murphy; Darren Morrissey, Daithí Burke, Jack Grealish; Pádraic Mannion (0-1, free), Gearóid McInerney, Fintan Burke (0-1); Joseph Cooney Johnny Coen; Tom Monaghan, Conor Cooney (0-9, six frees, one sideline, one 65), Cathal Mannion; Conor Whelan (0-4), Cianan Fahy (0-2), Brian Concannon.

Subs: Jason Flynn for Monaghan (43 mins); Ronan Glennon for Fahy (55); David Burke for Coen (61); Gavin Lee for Concannon (70).

Referee: James Owens (Wexford).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times