Clinical Kilkenny retain All-Ireland hurling title
Cody’s side produce imperious second half display to see off Galway at Croke Park
Kilkenny captain Joey Holden lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after his side beat Galway in the All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park yesterday. Photograph: Inpho
It started with the promise of a memorable contest but by the final whistle Kilkenny had proved beyond quibble their enduring supremacy in current hurling.
Despite looking vulnerable in a first half when the movement and brio of Galway exerted considerable pressure, the champions closed ranks in the second half to limit space and corral their opponents into tight and unprofitable positions.
It wasn’t an easy match in which to identify key contributors. TJ Reid, not man marked and shifting around the attack, wasn’t spectacular but that also reflects the average expected of him. He still managed 1-7, only one score of which was from play but that was significant - the goal that kept Galway within reach during the first half and remains on course for the Hurler of the Year award.
His predecessor - if that is the case - Richie Hogan wasn’t prominent but looked less than 100 per cent in the wake of quad injury speculation and was well marked by Daithi Burke. He still managed to conjure a couple of points to pay his way until being replaced on the hour.
Another injury concern, the veteran Eoin Larkin, belied fears that a broken thumb would inhibit him by playing a very consistent role lying deep and winning hard ball as well as shooting a couple of useful points.
The defence wasn’t as assured as usual and was under pressure in the first half but once they tightened up after the break they relentlessly kept the play bunched in the middle and away from the wings that Galway had effectively exploited in the first 35 minutes.
They also had their successes: Paul Murphy shut out Cathal Mannion and captain Joey Holden rounded off a first season as the team’s new full back by riding out a first half during which Joe Canning was leading the charge with three points from play plus a handful of frees and benefiting from the defence’s tighter structure in the second period.
Canning relived the nightmare from 2012 and became largely anonymous apart from a goal scored from a free in injury-time by which stage it was purely a statistical detail.
Pádraig Walsh and especially Cillian Buckley have had more compelling displays but Walsh played effectively on Jonathan Glynn and polished off a loose clearance to put Kilkenny five ahead in the final five minutes.
As a collective their improved display turned the match and although Galway’s response was profoundly disappointing for their revved-up supporters, already celebrating after the minor victory, Kilkenny take a share of the credit for so successfully redefining the terms of engagement.
When the match was a contest Galway were impressive. Physically assertive and calm in the face of the adversity of the 13th-minute goal - when the otherwise steady John Hanbury missed a ball and Walter Walsh slipped past him to set up Reid - they pressed and pressed.
If the shooting from play wasn’t impeccable they did convert all of their frees between Canning’s four and three huge strikes from distances of over 80 metres by Jason Flynn.
Galway had a brush with serious adversity when Johnny Coen - the most jittery of the defence, who had hit a couple of clearances straight back to Kilkenny players and then had the misfortune to spoon a dropping ball over his own bar - swung Colin Fennelly to the ground by the neck.
Referee James Owens showed a yellow card but there could have been no complaints about red.
The second half began with Kilkenny three behind but they had that remedied within eight minutes with points from Conor Fogarty and a couple of placed balls by Reid. An indication of how toothless the Galway threat rapidly became was that their forwards managed one point from play.
Kilkenny continued to turn the screw. Their appetite for the fray was seen in a succession of rucks and skirmishes, which they invariably won. They were also clinical with chances - just two wides in the second half and scores from play by seven of their front eight.
Galway lost shape and their play became aimless. Hit-and-hope deliveries fell harmlessly for waiting defenders and only the teenager Conor Whelan up front took the fight to Kilkenny. He was rewarded with a point, confirmed by Hawk-Eye, but too often he was surrounded and un-supported on the ball.
David Burke at centrefield worked hard and used the ball well but the disintegration of the team’s high-tempo play left him isolated in the face of Kilkenny’s integrated patterns and the complementary play of their pairing in the middle, the increasingly influential Michael Fennelly and his gate-keeper partner Conor Fogarty.
Any chance Galway might generate late excitement evaporated with a succession of wides, starting with a Canning free - that could have reduced the margin to two in the 62nd minute but instead was immediately followed by a Colin Fennelly point for a two-point turnaround - after which Whelan, Greg Lally and Conor Cooney also missed.
Richie Power made a welcome re-appearance after a year out and showed a couple of touches of quality.
Ultimately though it was business as usual for the most successful collective in the history of the game. Implaccable and unstoppable.
Kilkenny: 1 E Murphy; 2 P Murphy, 3 J Holden, 4 S Prendergast; 5 P Walsh (0-1), 6 K Joyce; 7 C Buckley; 8 M Fennelly (0-2), 9 C Fogarty (0-1); 14 C Fennelly (0-2), 11 R Hogan (0-2), 15 E Larkin (0-2), 12 TJ Reid (1-8, 5 frees 2 65), 13 G Aylward (0-2), 10 W Walsh (0-2).
Substitutions: 24 R Power for R Hogan (61 mins), 23 J Power for G Aylward (62 mins)
Galway: 1 C Callanan; 2 J Coen, 3 J Hanbury, 4 P Mannion; 5 A Harte, 6 I Tannian, 7 D Burke; 8 A Smith, 9 D Burke (0-1); 10 C Whelan (0-2), 11 C Donnellan (0-1), 14 J Canning (1-8, 5 frees); 13 J Flynn (0-4, 3 frees), 12 J Glynn, 15 C Mannion.
Substitutes: D Collins (0-2) for A Harte (24 mins), 21 C Cooney for 8 A Smith (56 mins), 20 G Lally for C Donnellan (6mins), 23 S Moloney for J Flynn (66 mins).