Nicky English: Galway without doubt the team to beat again
Manner of the victory over Kilkenny clearly reasserted Tribesmen’s credentials
Conor Whelan celebrates after Jonathan Glynn scored Galway’s opening goal in the Leinster final replay at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
This was a brilliant contest at the height of summer and hugely enjoyable. All the tension and anxiety was gone from Galway’s game – despite the ominous opening when Joe Canning missed the early free.
His team hardly noticed, setting off at full gallop. I had questioned them after the drawn game because I went to Croke Park last week expecting to see them confirm their All-Ireland credentials, which never happened and whereas I expected they’d win the replay I never anticipated that they’d be so impressive.
This was a truly dominant performance but they caught by sucker punches along the way, as Kilkenny – true to what it says on their tin – somehow found a way back into the contest. This really challenged Galway, who had expended vast amounts of energy to apparently win the match but then had to fire themselves up again – almost to win it a second time.
The point by Joe Canning after conceding the third goal, some of the ball winning by John Hanbury and Cathal Mannion’s points from all sorts of distances and angles confirmed that they were a better team but basically, through no fault of their own, they had to come through surprising adversity.
Micheál Donoghue’s intelligence as a manger shone through in the way he applied the key lesson of the previous week: Kilkenny’s domination of the aerial corridors, which was disrupted by Johnny Glynn’s arrival as a replacement.
Glynn started this time and no-one could beat him to the high ball. That superiority spread right through the team. The half backs Pádraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney and Aidan Harte shut everything down.
It wasn’t just a question of banging loose ball into Glynn. The deliveries from David Burke in the middle were considered and accurate and Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan were having a field day and it looked ominous for their opponents. They were just the better team.
Kilkenny’s goals had an element of good luck. For the first, Ger Aylward must have overcarried, judging by the distance he had to go to retrieve his hurley after the goal.
After half-time Kilkenny came back and Richie Hogan caused problems even if in top gear he’d have added a couple more points to his total.
You still have to hand it to Brian Cody’s teams. They can do extraordinary things through sheer will-power and effort.
The goals made inroads into Galway’s lead to the point where the game arrived at a critical juncture with just a point in it.
Joe Canning answered the third goal by stepping up and hitting a magnificent point off his hurley. Conor Fogarty then missed a chance he should have converted and when Cathal Mannion took the margin back out to three, Galway resumed their gallop.
David Burke and Johnny Coen did enough work in midfield over 45 minutes to win two matches but it was one particular incident in the second half, with the game back in the melting pot, that summed up the champions’ performance.
Glynn chased about 45 metres after Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and threw himself at him to try and get in a hook. He had had to get up off the ground to start the pursuit and it would have been forgivable if he had decided to let it go, particularly in the heat of Thurles yesterday.
Ultimately the victory was the result of some remarkable point-scoring from Mannion, Niall Burke, Whelan and Canning – brilliant scores under pressure. They used their physique, power and strength to telling effect and drove on, regardless of what Kilkenny were somehow making happen at the other end.
The merits of provincial titles have been frequently questioned because of the six-week gap until the semi-finals against teams who have been tested in quarter-finals but, this year, three weeks is a nice break to have and winning Leinster is a valuable achievement for Galway.
Kilkenny now have to get themselves ready for a quarter-final next weekend against a fresh Limerick.
The provincial round-robins have shown how hard it is to give a performance on a third successive weekend. You can never question their commitment and ability to come back but this is going to be a major task.
From Galway’s point of view, this has been a significant weekend. They have had to go back to the coal face and dig it all out again but it has been impressive.
They have restated their credentials emphatically and the sense that there was going to be blood in the water after last week’s match, to encourage other challengers for Galway’s title, has been completely dispelled. They are now without doubt the team to beat.