Goals help clinical Galway apply some welcome balm to their old wounds
Galway's Fergal Moore tussles with Kilkenny's Aidan Fogarty during yesterday's Allianz Hurling League Division 1A++++++ clash at Pearse Stadium in Galway. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 0-17:The teams responsible for elevating the hurling summer of 2012 into a folkloric championship mixed and mingled in the cool sunshine of Salthill yesterday and, when it was over, Galway enjoyed the sliver of optimism that comes with scoring goals and winning against the Cats.
You take what they give you, even in February.
Nobody was getting carried away here. Hurling always winds up slowly towards its high summer climax and even though the exchanges were hot at times, there was the definite sense of both teams being still distracted with the February business of housekeeping and keeping roll.
Anthony Cunningham gave a frown of genuine puzzlement when it was put to him that the home team had not formed a guard of honour before the throw-in.
“For what?,” he asked and nodding as he recalled the old tradition for All-Ireland champion teams. “Oh . . . we were just warming up, to be honest. We were always tight for time and just got onto the pitch before the game.”
Kilkenny were too busy with wardrobe issues to even notice. Brian Cody was as mystified as everyone else as to why JJ Delaney lined out at fullback wearing 29 instead of the number 3. But he confirmed the Noresiders were not becoming sentimental: they had not “retired” the jersey in honour of Noel Hickey.
“I thought it was retired after meself,” Cody laughed.
In other words, it was not a day when anything much felt at stake. Kilkenny arrived in the west with many marquee talents absent but still fielded a high-calibre defence which was prised open for three crisply-taken Galway goals.
Mullagh’s Davy Glennon fired the first after the benefiting from a breaking ball sent in towards Jonathan Glynn. A minute later, Niall Healy struck a wonderfully angled shot after reacting sharply to another long ball.
And in the 33rd minute, Damien Hayes collected a thoughtful crossfield pass from Joe Canning and showing all of the sharp heels of old turned smartly to score Galway’s third goal on the trot. All three goals originated in deep direct passing and in isolating the Kilkenny defenders.
But the goals couldn’t quite obscure the fact that without them, the home team would have been struggling to make an impression.
Kilkenny responded to those first-half setbacks in their own implacable fashion. Never work-shy, the All-Ireland champions knuckled down once they scoreboard flashed 2-04 to 0-4 and concocted five points on the trot.
Richie Power was a threat from dead balls all afternoon and once the match settled, the Kilkenny men dominated the play in the tight spaces around their half-back line, breaking through the Galway cover and winning free after free for Power or Richie Hogan to convert.
Tommy Walsh’s 24th minute point, after Kilkenny worked the ball across the field through Power and Lester Ryan, seemed to signal the real beginning of the new season for the All-Ireland champions. The Tullaroan general set himself up for the strike from distance, announcing his intention with a delayed stroke and duly claiming the point.
A point which had little to do with the score had been made. Kilkenny would close the gap to within one but Hayes’s timely goal left them chasing through the second half.
“Overall, not too bad,” said Brian Cody. “We conceded three goals which is a huge amount and scored no goals. We missed three handy frees in the second half but look, that is the way it went. Overall, it wasn’t a bad display.”
It is amusing to hear Cody in such forgiving mood about defensive lapses – further proof that this is February. But for those missed frees, they might have edged this contest and Cody only had to look at Paul Murphy and Aidan Fogarty for evidence that the core Kilkenny attribute of honesty is alive and well.
Galway also offered several signs that more mouth-watering summer clashes between these teams are on the cards.
Joseph Cooney made three fine clearances early in the second half and delivered a wonderful point from play to cap a solid display at centre-half back. Joe Canning played a deep centre-half forward role and helped to create the space leading to the Galway goals.
Johnny Coen and Niall Donoghue took up where they left off last season, full of vim and looking to bust through the black and amber cover.
“There were a lot of cobwebs on both sides,” said Anthony Cunningham. “We found it difficult to pull away there when we in pole position. Our hurling was rusty. But we battled hard. That was the big thing we asked for. We would be happy with some of the new players – Davy Glennon and Joseph Cooney.
“It is about finding players in the league.”