Kilkenny look better bet given Galway’s failure to consistently deliver

Michael Fennelly may yet make an appearance for Kilkenny in this evening’s Leinster hurling semi-final replay

Galway’s Jason Flynn and David Burke in action against Kilkenny’s  Kieran Joyce last week. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway’s Jason Flynn and David Burke in action against Kilkenny’s Kieran Joyce last week. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Former hurler of the year Michael Fennelly may yet make an appearance for Kilkenny in this evening’s Leinster hurling semi-final replay despite having been ruled out because of a back injury sustained in training last week. Fennelly will be given as much time as possible to prove his fitness with manager Brian Cody deciding last night to defer announcement of his team until before throw-in.

Galway have named an unchanged team for the eagerly-awaited sequel, which is not being televised and has sold out O’Connor Park’s capacity of around 17,000.

The intractability of this contest is such that even the old rules of replays offer little insight. On one hand Galway have more room for improvement, as they checked out of last week’s drawn match for a lengthy period; on the other Kilkenny have probably learned more having done enough to win comfortably before dropping the crystal on the way home.

Fewer options

Taken in sequence – a shifting rather than constant structure – the past five years have seen Kilkenny concede fresh ground on an annual basis. It’s a tribute to the county’s point of departure that such transition could at the same time encompass two All-Irelands but parts of the mystique have crumbled incrementally.

Losing the five-in-a-row, taking a trimming from Dublin in a league final, another one from Galway in a Leinster final, losing for the first time since the 1940s to Dublin in championship and last weekend blowing a 10-point lead against Galway – these were all significant events. How it plays from here is anyone’s guess.

Yet if you stripped away all of Kilkenny’s legendary recent past and took them as just another team in the championship there were probably more positives than negatives last week – despite the calamitous final few minutes.

The good parts were more sustained and potentially better capable of being repeated. The team’s driving influences Richie Hogan and TJ Reid continued to deliver and with Colin Fennelly’s good form holding and Eoin Larkin getting a couple of scores they put up a good score, 3-22, and wasted nothing in wides in the second half.

At the back Paul Murphy came strongly into the game and JJ Delaney was solid; the half backs had their phases of superiority. It wasn’t until the end that the suicidal impulses to ball watch and follow the play rather than maintaining shape manifested themselves.

Steep concessions

Eoin Murphy

Yet so much depends on how – or whether – Galway turn up. Even when the match was in the balance in the first three quarters they were guilty of some poor decision making and even poorer shooting.

Joe Canning had a fine afternoon and not just based on his late, late heroics. His enthusiasm and hard work in the first half helped to keep Galway ticking over though his switch into full forward in the second half appeared to isolate him for that period when Kilkenny got completely on top in the match.

Haunting Galway going into this is their track record of failure when it comes to consistent delivery. The benign interpretation would say that Galway could feel energised by the near-death experience and brought on by the contest to the point that they will improve substantially.

Less benignly for them is the possibility that they have simply held up Kilkenny, spent themselves in delaying the inevitable. The last time they drew with Kilkenny courtesy of a late Joe Canning point – the All-Ireland two years ago – Galway were dismantled in the replay.

Aside from Canning, Kilkenny’s defence was at times in trouble on Niall Burke, in the first half, Jonathon Glynn in the second and Jason Flynn throughout. The failure to pick up Conor Cooney was very disastrously expensive at the end.

Which is more likely – that Galway can mount a sustained attack or that Kilkenny can patch together a more coherent rearguard? The instinct here is for the latter.

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