Galway sink under Kilkenny’s rainstorm of retribution
Of all Cody’s perfect hurling Septembers this may have been the most imperious
Kilkenny’s TJ Reid and Eoin Larkin tackle Padraig Mannion of Galway during Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final. Photograph: Inpho
See them as they stand on another Monday morning: this band of brothers. Irish sport has seen nothing like the Kilkenny hurling teams which have played under Brian Cody. Of all the perfect hurling Septembers that the Marble county has cut under that patrician, rose-blush gaze of Cody’s this may have been the most imperious and damning of them all.
Kilkenny hobbled up from Noreside nursing all kinds of ailments to face a Galway team which had been breathing fire for the last month. Richie Hogan, their diminutive orchestrator, had just one good leg to work with. Eoin Larkin’s hand was just out of a plaster cast. Jackie Tyrrell’s long battle to regain fitness had failed. Michael Fennelly had reported for one week of training. JJ Delaney, don’t forget, had bowed out. Henry Shefflin was suited and booted and chatting with Michael Lyster in the television studio.
And Galway came here with a religious belief. All week, the county had pulsed with conviction that this was the year. And by noon, the hurling pubs in the city chimed that view. The old stadium was giddy close to three o’clock and on the radio, ex-hurlers from Tipp’, from Cork, from Waterford didn’t even try to disguise the fact that their hearts were with the maroon team today. Kilkenny’s ten All-Irelands since 2000 was enough.
The general view was that a Galway win would be good for the game and for the opening half, they produced several passages of beautiful hurling to match a new bloody-mindedness. At half time, the feeling was this young Galway team had the stuff. John Connolly’s salute – People of Galway, we lof you – came rushing through the decades.
It didn’t matter.
Thirty-five minutes of demonic, furious will and immaculate stick work – just two wides – had turned another early autumn Sunday black and amber. They are simply indomitable. Kilkenny landed 0-14 after the break and held the Galway men to a mere four points.
Joe Canning concocted a goal with a late free but that was no more than a cry in the dark as 2015 was consigned to the same bleak cupboard as all the other years when Galway have been here since 1988. It was a cruel sight; the maroon team flaked across the floor as The Rose of Mooncoin was played over the loudspeakers with indecent haste. For Canning and the other senior players, it must have been like being pitched back into an unspeakable nightmare.
For Cody, it came down to the application of the qualities that Kilkenny trust most. Stick craft and aggression. “It is fair to say that we didn’t hurl as we would have wanted in the first half. Galway were outstanding – their work rate, their relentless kind of physicality and their hurling. They would have been disappointed to be just three points ahead. I thought our response was magnificent. Our lads showed a relentless kind of spirit to drive on and our hurling was excellent.”
Galway’s Johnny Coen was lucky to stay on the field after felling Colin Fennelly with a reckless tackle but that first half was played on Galway’s terms. They led by 0-14 to 1-8 and the agitation which Cody displayed on the sideline spoke for all of Kilkenny.
“It is how you play when you are under pressure and how you hang in there when you are under pressure that defines the game,” he later pointed out.
They always hang tough. And in the second half, they obliterated the influence of young Jason Flynn and Canning and the superb Conor Whelan by turning the match into a kaleidoscope of black and amber jerseys that left Galway with no time to think or see, let alone strike the ball cleanly. They were caught in a rainstorm of retribution.
Three awful calls by referee James Owens helped swing the momentum towards Kilkenny. Nonetheless, TJ Reid loomed over all others in influence. As Galway flailed, Kilkenny nimbly picked off the killing scores through Larkin and Ger Aylward. With ten minutes to go, Tribesman hope had been snuffed out. Anthony Cunningham wore a harrowed look as he tried to reason his way through the disintegration.
“We had an outstanding first half and deserved to be three up. Could have been more but I don’t think that was the winning or losing of the game. But as time went on we panicked a bit and had a few bad wides.
“That is extremely hard to get better at but it is something we have got better at. It is within our grasp to win an All-Ireland. We are within inches of it. But it is how we react from this.”
They had decided to open the gates if Galway won the match and The West’s Awake was on the loudspeakers. The gates stayed closed. The vigil goes on.
It finished 1-22 to 1-18. A 36th All-Ireland on Noreside.