Galway exorcise the Kilkenny ghost and retain Leinster title

Having seen a 12-point lead whittled away the champions proved their mettle in replay

Galway fans on the field in Thurles after the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway fans on the field in Thurles after the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Galway 1-28 Kilkenny 3-15

Galway emerged from the heat of a blazing afternoon in Semple Stadium with their Leinster title intact but by the end this Leinster final replay was less a sporting contest than an exorcism.

It couldn’t have been more different than the drawn encounter in Croke Park with its cagey, low scoring. Galway came within five of equalling the previous week’s aggregate of scores but had to survive an archetypal comeback from their opponents before killing the match in the closing minutes.

The All-Ireland champions may or may not have been mindful of the past but they came face to face with the abyss in the 55th minute.

Having led at one stage by 12 points on the verge of half-time, Galway found themselves a mere point ahead after Richie Hogan had rifled a loose ball back through a thicket of players to bring the score to 1-20 to 3-13, the narrowest of gaps but one through which a gallery of ghosts were swirling to challenge the champions’ mental stability.

The score was followed by a Joe Canning point, as he glided through two attempted tackles to double the now much reduced lead to two. In the minutes that followed, the champions were able to steady themselves.

Great pressure by Ger Aylward on Galway goalkeeper James Skehill forced a poor clearance, which was snapped up by Conor Fogarty, who looked to have reduced the deficit once gain to the minimum but as happened on a few occasions, the disembodied arbitration of Hawk-Eye requested a referral, which ruled it wide.

Cathal Mannion’s point on the hour restored the margin to three and Galway took it home from there.

Mannion had a brilliant afternoon, lofting over six points with no wides and although Canning was again somewhat at odds with his placed ball accuracy – he got the Hawk-Eye interventions going as early as the second minute – he stepped up when required and was unlucky not to score a goal six minutes after half-time when he first-timed a breaking ball inside the full-back line only to see it flash wide of the far post.

They started at a dazzling pace. After the main shock to the system in last week’s drawn match had seen their imposing forwards comprehensively out-fielded by Kilkenny and especially full back Pádraig Walsh, the champions took to the skies with more menace than the Valkyrie.

Galway’s David Burke lifts the Bob O’Keeffe Cup. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Galway’s David Burke lifts the Bob O’Keeffe Cup. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Captain, David Burke, who had been subdued in the drawn match, got on to industrial quantities of possession and hoisted ball after ball into the full forwards.

The central defensive line of Daithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney let nothing past whereas at the other end, the introduction of Johnny Glynn caused the same panic as a week previously when he came on as a replacement but on this occasion with more tangible reward. With Galway 0-4 to 0-1 ahead in the 13th minute, Glynn took another catch, from David Burke, and shot powerfully past Eoin Murphy, who got a stick to it but couldn’t prevent the goal.

Their domination was by now so complete that corner back John Hanbury had even been able to overlap down the right wing but there was no-one in support to latch on to his ball into the square.

After the goal, Glynn’s productivity took over, more high catches setting up Conor Whelan and Mannion for points and yet another enabling one for himself.

The scoreboard became a record of humiliation for Kilkenny, trailing by 11 after 20 minutes. Despite all of the grave acknowledgements that they can never be written off and how perilous it is to underestimate them, Brian Cody’s team looked a beaten docket.

Even the expected rallying phase, which saw them out-score their tormentors 0-5 to 0-1 between the 19th and 28th minutes, was out-gunned by another barrage of scores, taking the lead to its 33rd minute zenith, 1-15 to 0-6.

That’s when the trouble started. Firstly, Ger Aylward wriggled free of combined defensive attentions to kick in a goal. There may have been a penalty for him had he not scored but for there was also a counter-claim that he had both dropped his hurl and over-carried the ball on the way.

It didn’t matter and at half-time the margin was nine, 1-16 to 1-7. Only Kilkenny manage to continue to spook their opponents when trailing by these sorts of margins and at half-time there was even talk of the 1997 All-Ireland quarter-final when Galway surrendered a nine-point lead at the very venue in Thurles.

Cody brought on Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan for the second half and things began to happen. Both scored 1-1 and after the former had turned in a gift of a goal after James Maher mishit a straightforward point attempt only for the sliotar to come back off the post, inviting Fennelly to poke it home.

The margin was now at six and the sense of unease grew. An apparent nervousness spoiled some of the Galway play and they were turning over possession and as is so familiar to teams facing Kilkenny in these circumstances the lead shrank and shrank.

TJ Reid, so important to the team in his constant movement to make himself available for the ball, potted frees and made the vital incision for Hogan’s goal, running slalom through the Galway defence to create the ruck and mayhem from which the ball emerged so invitingly.

Surely a team that had looked as superior as Galway couldn’t lose the match?

In tribute to their resilience, the champions never lost their lead and their forwards continued to menace and weigh up their scoring chances.

Galway mightn’t have appreciated it at the time but it was a scare that leaves the victory enhanced, as they move into the All-Ireland semi-finals in three weeks. For their part Kilkenny have to do it all again next weekend against Limerick.

GALWAY: 1 James Skehill; 2 Adrian Tuohey, 3 Daithí Burke, 4 John Hanbury; 5. Pádraic Mannion, 6 Gearóid McInerney, 7 Aidan Harte (0-2); 8 Johnny Coen, 9 David Burke (capt); 10 Joseph Cooney (0-1), 11 Joe Canning (0-10, six frees), 12 Niall Burke (0-2); 13 Conor Whelan (0-4), 24 Jonathan Glynn (1-1), 15 Cathal Mannion (0-6).

Subs: 14 Conor Cooney (0-1) for N Burke (47 mins), 25 Jason Flynn (0-1) for J Cooney (61 mins), 18 Seán Loftus for D Burke (69 mins).

KILKENNY: 1 Eoin Murphy; 4 Paddy Deegan, 3 Pádraig Walsh, 2 Paul Murphy; 5 Joey Holden (0-1), 6 Cillian Buckley (capt), 7 Enda Morrissey; 8 Conor Fogarty (0-1), 9 James Maher (0-1);  25 John Donnelly (0-1), 11 TJ Reid (0-9, six frees and 65), 12 Richie Leahy; 14 Walter Walsh, 13 Billy Ryan, 15 Ger Aylward (1-0).

Subs: 23 Liam Blanchfield for W Walsh (18 mins), 21 Richie Hogan (1-1) for Leahy (half-time), 22 Colin Fennelly (1-1) for Ryan (half-time), 18 Robert Lennon for Morrissey (48 mins), 24 Luke Scanlon for Donnelly (62 mins).

Referee: James Owens (Wexford).

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