Nicky English: Kilkenny can complete the job second time around

Brian Cody’s side somehow left it behind them last week but they still look too strong for Galway

Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell and Andrew Smith of Galway square up last week at O’Connor Park. Smith and Iarla Tannian will have to ensure they focus primarily on their hurling in the replay if Galway are to prosper. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell and Andrew Smith of Galway square up last week at O’Connor Park. Smith and Iarla Tannian will have to ensure they focus primarily on their hurling in the replay if Galway are to prosper. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

It became a cliché going into last week’s match that Galway are unpredictable but even so what happened still managed to surprise. As I said immediately after the match, just as you felt you understood where Galway were – or weren’t – they turned everything upside down.

Now, a week later, Galway are still unpredictable but I’m no more convinced by them than I was six days ago. For too long in the second half they were coming second to the ball and looked tired and resigned to being beaten. So it’s still very hard to say that they’ll come out and beat Kilkenny even if they appear to be a more competitive outfit than they proved last year.

That much at least was welcome for Anthony Cunningham because it was becoming all too easy to wonder about the similarities with last year of Galway’s season to date – between a lacklustre league campaign and being pushed so hard by Laois.

Last week there was a competitiveness and abrasiveness to their play, led by Iarla Tannian and Andy Smith, which was more comfortingly reminiscent of 2012.

There’s a danger there as well though because the upshot of that aggression in the All-Ireland replay two years ago was that those players in particular concentrated too much on the physical stuff and it interfered with the focus on their hurling. As a result neither of them was as effective.

Better movement

They need better movement in the forwards where for a lot of the drawn match they were too static and reliant on Joe Canning and later Jonathon Glynn to win ball and run at the Kilkenny defence. When that happened Galway caused the most trouble but it didn’t happen often enough.

The aggression needed will be controlled aggression and aggressive movement and hurling rather than overreliance on the physical, which never really bothers Kilkenny.

A striking aspect of last week was that, during their purple patch, Kilkenny played as well as they have for quite a while given that the opposition was more credible than that which Offaly provided.

TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, their most influential players this year, Colin Fennelly – who has been really consistently good in the championship – and the welcome sight of Tommy Walsh in some sort of form all contributed to a quality attacking display.

The defence also got on top. Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell and Cillian Buckley in particular all raised their games and dominated Galway.

I have a reservation about them though based on the question that had Galway been able to play like they did in the last five minutes for a more sustained period, would Kilkenny’s lack of pace have unravelled them at an earlier stage?

There are also question marks hanging over Galway and the biggest one is that I’m not convinced their last-gasp surge is repeatable.

The replay is without doubt more important mentally for Kilkenny. A semi-final they should have – and thought they had – won has potentially become a lot more dangerous and they could conceivably have created a monster that will be hard to banish.

Lose this one and there’s a good few bodies who won’t sustain a back-door campaign.

Brian Cody came away with doubts about his defence and its composition, particularly Kieran Joyce, Brian Kennedy and, apart from the period on top, Jackie Tyrrell. I was surprised with the way the defence was laid out last week.

A stopper centre back needs pace on the wings to cover back and I’d have selected Pádraig Walsh there to do the job because although Cillian Buckley is mobile and reads the game well I felt Kieran Joyce struggled on the other wing. For all the two points Walsh got from the middle he could do that from wing back and, in my opinion, a lot more too.

Cody will also have been worried about the re-emergence of injury problems with Michael Fennelly out and also Richie Power.

The difference

It’s probably worth bearing in mind that Kilkenny are as keen as Galway not to relive 2013. So far they’ve won the league, shipped a couple of injuries and drawn a Leinster semi-final. The difference this time is that a year ago they were delighted to draw against Dublin.

I give Galway a better chance than I did last week. They needed that match and it will stand to them. They also created plenty of chances and Eoin Murphy had to make some excellent saves.

But you have to side with Kilkenny. There was more of a pattern to their play and their best spells lasted longer. Galway, at the end of the day, were depending on five minutes of madness.

In the qualifiers I think that Laois have a better chance than people have given them credit for this evening. Waterford look vulnerable because of their youth, inexperience and above all not being at full strength. Home advantage should swing it but I won’t be surprised if Laois make it really difficult.

Tomorrow in Ballycastle is the third meeting of Offaly and Antrim this year and again home advantage might be decisive. Offaly have been particularly poor so far and it will be hard for Brian Whelahan to get them back on track and I’m inclined to think Antrim will repeat their great championship win of 25 years ago.

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