Kilkenny and Galway to go again after first final draw in 25 years

Dramatic injury-time points force fitful champions to Thurles next Sunday for a replay

Galway’s Conor Whelan wins a high ballduring the Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Galway’s Conor Whelan wins a high ballduring the Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Kilkenny 0-18 Galway 0-18

Draws and replays: there are always some for whom they beat the alternative but working out who got what out Sunday’s Leinster hurling final will take a little while. It is beyond argument that Kilkenny will be pleased for two reasons: Brian Cody’s young and largely rookie team escaped being beaten with two points in a minute in injury-time and the additional match will bring on the team.

Joseph Cooney pushed Galway three ahead, 0-18 to 15, in the 68th minute and it looked as if the team’s fitfulness wouldn’t cause any lasting damage. But, after replacement John Donnelly reduced the deficit to two, Joe Canning missed a free and in the first of three minutes’ added time wing back Enda Morrissey and TJ Reid - with a laser-like shot from under the Cusack Stand - bridged the gap and booked a first Leinster replay in 25 years, which will be played in Thurles at 3.0 next Sunday.

Equally, All-Ireland champions Galway will feel relief underlying the disappointment of losing a serviceable lead, as they didn’t play particularly well and to have lost their provincial title, whereas not fatal to their championship future, would have almost caused a psychic rupture given the difficult history they have with their opponents, largely written by stronger more authoritative Kilkenny teams.

Micheál Donoghue’s team swept to a first MacCarthy Cup in 29 years last September but didn’t meet Kilkenny along the way. To have lost one of their titles to them the following season when their opponents are so clearly in transition - notwithstanding this to be a state the existence of which Cody disputes - would have been devastating.

Conor Whelan is tackled by TJ Reid and Enda Morrissey. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Conor Whelan is tackled by TJ Reid and Enda Morrissey. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

So, the first half made uneasy viewing for Galway supporters. The champions looked nervous and all of the whispered concerns about the mental challenge of taking on Kilkenny must have echoed ever more loudly.

Part of this was reflected in the anxious touch of some of players and an uncharacteristic turning over of possession to the opposition, such as that which led to Kilkenny’s equalising second point on 10 minutes.

Further worry came with the challengers’ manifest competitiveness in two of Galway’s key specialities: physicality and ability under the high ball. Neither side took any prisoners and that expected edge for the champions’ forwards never materialised in any substantial way.

Pádraig Walsh was exceptional in the air, cutting out a number of deliveries rained down on his defence and putting in a fine block on Canning in the 19th minute, as the latter bore in on goal, looking to make an advantage play count for more than the point that he had to settle for in the end.

Joey Holden was also in evidence and captain Cillian Buckley led from centre back, nearly turning one possession into a major rallying point but instead watching the shot go wide.

Still, the match was going encouragingly for them. Debutant Billy Ryan mitigated his wides (three, by the end) with a couple of snappily taken points and James Maher put in a fine shift in his first provincial final at centrefield where last year’s All-Ireland winning captain, David Burke was struggling to stamp his authority on the contest.

Galway managed a couple of two-point leads during the opening half but never shook off the challengers, who actually overturned the second such deficit, 0-5 to 0-7 with three unanswered points before half-time to lead by one, 0-8 to 0-7 at the break.

It was typical of the fits and starts of their display that Galway could occasionally string together impressive scoring moves finished by Niall Burke and Conor Whelan but also be briskly repelled by the Kilkenny defence.

They also found themselves at risk from a couple of goal chances, most threateningly in the 19th minute when Walter Walsh got in on goal and laid off to Ger Aylward. The defensive effort came at the cost of a free, which Reid converted.

By the break two things were evident: one, Kilkenny’s inaccuracy was letting Galway off lightly and the slender disadvantage owed a great deal to their opponents’ eight wides and two, presumably the champions would raise their game in the second half.

To a certain extent.

Within seconds of the restart Whelan asserted himself, skipping inside the defence and forcing a fine save from Eoin Murphy, at the cost of a 65, which Canning converted and the match began to bounce along, from level to one-point leads either way.

Kilkenny and Galway players battle for possession. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Kilkenny and Galway players battle for possession. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Galway had slightly improved up front but were unable to launch a run of their less experienced opponents. They began to accumulate their own wides’ total and make mistakes in building attacks, throwing careless passes around, which were gobbled up by Buckley and his rearguard.

There were signs that maybe the pressure would tell when after Aylward’s equaliser in the 47th minute, Galway took the initiative. By the start of the final quarter they opened up a two-point lead for the first time in the second half, courtesy of Cathal Mannion, who featured strongly with two points in a couple of minutes and Whelan, who had also been blocked looking for a goal.

Donoghue’s introduction of Jonathan Glynn also turned the screw, as he won two high balls within two minutes of his arrival but crucially, Galway didn’t make much of this new-found source, shooting a couple of wides which Glynn himself added to shortly afterwards.

Kilkenny’s bench has helped them considerably in the past couple of outings and contributed something here, as Donnelly scored and Richie Hogan had an assist for a point.

There were a fraught 90 seconds or so at the end as both teams attempted to find - and more frantically, not to concede - a winner but the great unresolved questions will await answers for a further week.

GALWAY: 1. James Skehill; 2. Adrian Tuohey, 3. Daithí Burke, 4. John Hanbury; 5. Pádraic Mannion, 6. Gearóid McInerney, 7. Aidan Harte; 8. Johnny Coen, 9. David Burke (capt); 10. Joseph Cooney (0-2), 11. Joe Canning (0-6, four frees, one 65), 14. Conor Cooney (0-1); 13. Conor Whelan (0-2), 12. Niall Burke (0-4), 15. Cathal Mannion (0-3).

Subs: 24. Jonathan Glynn for C Cooney (58 mins), 22. Brian Concannon for C Mannion (65 mins), 25. Jason Flynn for Whelan (70 mins).

KILKENNY: 1. Eoin Murphy (0-1, free); 4. Paddy Deegan, 3. Pádraig Walsh, 2. Paul Murphy; 5. Joey Holden, 6. Cillian Buckley (capt.), 7. Enda Morrissey (0-1); 8.Conor Fogarty, 9. James Maher (0-1); 10. Martin Keoghan, 11. TJ Reid (0-10, eight frees), 12. Richie Leahy; 13. Billy Ryan (0-2), 14. Walter Walsh (0-1), 15. Ger Aylward (0-1).

Subs: 23. Liam Blanchfield for Keoghan (48 mins), 25. John Donnelly (0-1) for Leahy (58 mins), 21. Richie Hogan for Aylward (59 mins).

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).

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