Kilkenny forwards stepped up to the plate


This is a special one for Brian Cody. The Kilkenny manager found where the leaks were and he plugged them, writes NICKY ENGLISH

YOU WOULD have to be enthralled with Kilkenny hurling after a performance like that yesterday. Of the nine All-Irelands they’ve collected under Brian Cody, this took the longest and it was probably the hardest and sweetest. It has been over the course of three games that they’ve come to grips with Galway and they got there in some style in the end.

Every single one of their players was hopping off the ground right from the start here. It’s some testament to the institution that Kilkenny hurling has become since Cody took over in 1999.

The trend was going their way over the previous 140 minutes of action against Galway this year. The shock and awe of July was long gone by the time yesterday came around.

Their key players stepped up after some of them hadn’t been in their best form before this.

Richie Power had a great game and Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin both really improved on their displays previous to this.

Richie Hogan had a fantastic game closer to goal and then you had a super performance from Cillian Buckley and to top it all off, the bolt out of the blue in Walter Walsh.

The Kilkenny forwards collectively really stepped up. I’m only presuming this but you would imagine they felt they let Henry Shefflin down the last day.

He was the big reason they had a replay to play in at all and to a man they made amends. Add in the outstanding defence – particularly Paul Murphy and Kieran Joyce, lads who aren’t the marquee names – and it made for possibly the best display I’ve seen from Kilkenny.

This wasn’t easy for them. They had a long summer. Yesterday they had to go through sucker punches in the first half and moments of danger from Galway in the second but they handled everything that was thrown at them.

Go back to the Leinster final when they were shell-shocked after Galway got the goals against them – they have clearly worked very hard over the summer on how to respond to Galway.

Within a minute of both Galway goals in the first half, they came back with scores of their own. Most people in the ground – including myself – probably missed TJ Reid’s point after the first one and then Richie Power’s goal was an immediate response to the second one.

They played like a team that were ready for anything and their reaction to those goals was the first key phase in deciding the game.

The other key period in the game came early in the second half when Galway turned up the volume and Joe Canning pointed a sideline ball and Henry Shefflin was called for overcarrying. The decision of the referee to call back Cyril Donnellan just as he was banging in a goal for Galway was huge.

Between that, Joe hitting the butt of the post with another goal chance and Donnellan being sent off – all in the space of five minutes or so – any momentum that Galway were building up just collapsed. After that, it was going to be nearly impossible for them to win. Buckley, Power and Fennelly got the next three points and really it was a procession from there.

Ultimately, Galway ran into a Kilkenny team that found its form and they drew an All-Ireland-winning performance out of them. The Galway defence was never able to get on top as it had been in the previous two games and up front, they’re still very reliant on Canning. They were abrasive and irritable in midfield and I thought they were involved in more extra-curricular stuff than they had been in other matches. It meant they weren’t as dominant.

Andy Smith got a yellow card and Iarla Tannian was lucky not to and I think it was just a sign of the pressure they were under from Fennelly and Buckley. I was really impressed with Buckley, a young player who looks to me like he could be in the Frank Cummins mode given a few more years. He’s only a boy but we’ll hear a lot more of him in years to come.

Galway have had a fantastic year. They’ve revived hurling in the county and although this will be deflating for them, they will go into next year knowing that it took Kilkenny three days to work them out and to beat them. It’s probably no consolation to them but they inspired one of the best Kilkenny performances I’ve seen for the past number of years. That’s a tribute to them and it should give them encouragement for the future.

But this belongs to Kilkenny. To see Henry Shefflin win his ninth All-Ireland medal is one of the highlights of my hurling life. You just don’t imagine something like that is possible these days. When Henry started back in 1999, it was thought virtually impossible to retain an All-Ireland hurling title. For him to win nine medals is fantastic.

His contribution yesterday was serious and he inspired more help from the players around him than was forthcoming the last day.

But remember, there would have been no replay only for him and nobody deserves a ninth medal more.

And for Brian himself, this must be a special one. He took the three weeks between the drawn game and the replay and got his team tuned in and ready from the off. Putting in Walter Walsh for his first ever championship start might have looked like a gamble but he knew what he had there. He knew that his forwards hadn’t done enough the last day, he found where the leaks were and he plugged them.

It’s amazing to think of the hunger and desire Kilkenny have. It’s nearly frightening to think that they’ll be going for Henry’s 10th next year.

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