Cooney stays calm for Galway to deliver amidst a raging tempest

Neither Cody or Shefflin inclined to yield an inch as late Kilkenny goal almost got a draw

Galway’s Conor Cooney signs autographs after the game. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Galway 1-24 Kilkenny 3-17

Wired. Into the 75th minute now and Conor Cooney is standing over the ball eyeing up the promenade-side posts. The game is deadlocked and on the sideline, Henry Shefflin and Brian Cody stand and watch. The atmosphere is off the radar. Forget about the Salthill breeze. This was an old-fashioned hurling tempest.

“Yeah it was very difficult,” said Shefflin, who knows a thing of two about sharp-shooting. “And when Colm [Lyons, the referee] went back to him I wondered was he going to take the free off him again like two weeks ago. And in general play, Conor probably didn’t have his best day but isn’t it brilliant having that leadership and to be able to stand over that free and strike it over the bar. I was delighted for him. He has done it over the years for St Thomas’s and Galway and that is what we are talking about; lads stepping up at the right time. It was a brilliant free. There was an awful lot riding on it.”

Salthill never has and never can be an ideal ground for hurling but Cooney’s delivery, from beyond the 65 sailed through the quirks of the breeze and delivered a famous day for Galway hurling.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Galway manager Henry Shefflin shake hands after the gameMandatory Credit ©INPHO

From the beginning, these teams tore into an occasion that was defined by the grandeur of arguably the greatest manager-player combination in Gaelic games history. There were periods – late in the first half and again towards the end of normal time – when Galway seemed to be on the verge of shaking off the Kilkenny challenge. But Cody teams are at their most intriguing during those periods when they appear to be shipping water.

They have an inherent knack for hanging in there and punished Galway’s failure to close out the game – maroon shaded groans to three successive wides as the game thundered into injury time – with a typically cold-hearted and opportunistic goal in the 73rd minute.

John Donnelly's strike was well-hit but a restless night awaited Galway goalkeeper Éanna Murphy had his team not escaped with the win here. To his credit, Murphy responded to the disappointing concession with a lightning quick restart which led to Paddy Deegan's aerial challenge which caught the splendid Tom Monaghan. It was one of those calls which can generate endless and heated pub debate. But there was nothing Kilkenny and Cody could do but watch as Cooney, after a long delay, produced a dagger shot.

After conceding 1-17 in the first half, Kilkenny shrugged off the setback of losing TJ Reid to injury at the break by coming out and out-gunning the home team by 0-7 to 0-1 in a blistering 15 minutes after half time. Eoin Cody, a true-and-true headache for the Galway fullback line, levelled the scores at 1-18 to 2-15 in the 53rd minute. Cody was the common factor in both of Kilkenny's first-half goals, scoring the first and finding Billy Ryan with a brilliant squared pass for the second. The visitors needed those boosts: by the 34th minute, they had registered a mere seven white flags to Galway's 17.

Suffocating ball pressure was the fountain source of Galway's blistering first half tally of 1-17. They drew 1-10 from the kind of turnovers that are anathema to the Kilkenny way and even Johnny Coen's 24th minute goal originated in the rare sight of a casual pass from Eoin Murphy, advancing from his goal. Cianan Fahy was onto it like lightning and Brian Concannon had the vision to spot Coen sneaking behind Kilkenny's backline: the finish was terrific.

But this was a game of runs. Kilkenny set into the second half with their trademark fire and stoicism, ticking off points through Alan Murphy while Walsh, Mikey Carey and Adrian Mullen landed heavyweight points that felt like momentum shifts.

Here was the test that will, if Galway and Shefflin finish as champions in high summer, come to feel hugely significant. Against the breeze; the wides ratcheting up and belief surging through the visitors. They found a way. Pádraic Mannion had a wonderful game at half-back while his brother Cathal, operating deep behind his midfield, was hugely industrious and composed.

With Tom Monaghan an electric presence all over the field, and Joseph Cooney was a towering presence throughout, Galway edged back in front. The scores came from Brian Concannon, Joseph Cooney and a big point by the veteran Daithí Burke, who made the most of a stunning sideline cut pass from Conor Cooney.

Galway’s Daithí Burke and Eoin Cody of Kilkenny. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

So the contest started on a high register and kept edging up in tension and entertainment and a series of brilliant plays. If the day came with all the banners and advance billing of the legendary sideline figures, then the athletes on the field seemed determined to give a show to remember. It was 1-2 to 0-3 for the Cats after a breathless opening 10 minutes and by the 14th minute, Galway were a perfect eight from eight for scoring while Kilkenny were six from eight.

Then came that barrage of ferocious Galway intensity and the succession of turnovers which will doubtlessly be subject to correction over the following fortnight in Nowlan Park. With the Reid injury and six points adrift at the break, Kilkenny appeared to be in a bit of a hole.

“Ah look, he has played a long time with injury and that, so that’s 35 minutes into him,” Brian Cody said afterwards.

“But I thought there was a very good life in everybody out there for a long time. We’ve come over here to Salthill many times over the years, and it’s always been a very difficult place to come away with a win. I suppose we were five seconds away from coming away with a draw, which would have been a healthy result. But like I said, we showed terrific spirit and fight, and hurling as well. It’s a round-robin, that means there are other games we have to play.”

In the tumult of the afternoon, we could forgot that. It felt like a hurling day slightly out of time. Cody and Shefflin could only meet for the first time as opposition managers once and once only. This was it. Naturally, neither man was inclined to yield an inch. Neither did. Let the record show etc. Onwards.

GALWAY: 1 Éanna Murphy; 4 D Morrissey, 3 D Burke, 2 J Grealish; 5 P Mannion (0-1), 6 G McInerney, 7 F Burke (0-2, two s/l); 21 J Coen (1-0), 10 D Burke (0-1); 9 T Monaghan (0-3), 11 C Cooney (0-6, six frees), 8 J Cooney (0-4); 15 C Mannion (0-2), 14 B Concannon (0-4), 12 C Fahy (0-1).

Subs: 26 C Whelan for 12 C Fahy (45 mins), 23 G Lee for 2 J Grealish (54), 19 TJ Brennan for 21 J Coen (70).

KILKENNY: 1 E Murphy; 2 M Butler, 3 H Lawlor, 4 T Walsh; 5 M Carey (0-1), 6 P Deegan, 7 C Browne; 8 J Maher, 9 C Buckley; 10 W Walsh (0-3), 11 P Walsh (0-2), 12 A Mullen (0-1); 15 E Cody (1-2), 14 TJ Reid (0-3, two frees), 13 B Ryan (1-0).

Subs: 22 A Murphy (0-5, one free) for 8 J Maher (31 mins), 26 T Phelan for 14 TJ Reid (h/t), 19 D Blanchfield for 7 C Browne (45), 23 J Donnelly (1-0) for 9 C Buckley (54), 24 M Keoghan for 13 B Ryan (32).

Referee: C Lyons (Cork).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times