Familiarity won’t stop sides from bringing real heat to the battle

Jackie Tyrrell (Kilkenny) gets away from Niall Healy (Galway) during the NHL clash in Nowlan Park. That was one of three victories the Cats recorded against the Tribesmen this year - can they make it four this Sunday in Tullamore? Photo: Eoin Hennessy
The message will be the same every day for as long as the journey lasts. This is it! There can be no half measure.

The message will be the same every day for as long as the journey lasts. This is it! There can be no half measure.

You have to produce your best, and then hope it is good enough. It is performance time!

It is championship time. This is REAL hurling time. It is the time when counties hold absolutely nothing back.

There can be pretence by some from time to time during the National League, but never in the championship. That is why it arouses such passion, such interests, such hope.

Kilkenny and Galway are most certainly no strangers to each other this season. Their meeting on Sunday (4pm) in Tullamore in the Leinster senior hurling championship semi-final will be their fourth of the year.

Familiarity will only intensify the heat of the exchanges if anything.

The good news for Kilkenny is that they have won the previous three clashes - the Walsh Cup in Freshford in January and then twice in the National League, the most recent in the semi-finals.

Since that latter meeting Kilkenny charged on and won the League final, beating Tipperary in a thriller. They followed that with another charge, when they walloped Offaly by a record margin since Brian Cody took over as team manager.

Nice going!

During the same period Galway busied themselves with a few challenge matches. Then they opened against Laois in the championship. That didn’t go so well.

“I thought we were gone a few times. We were that bad,” a colleague in the West offered. “We haven’t a clue where we are with the team.”

Contrasting fortunes, but still nothing between the counties. You see, that is the beauty of the championship. It is a great leveller. Past and future matter little.

It is a cliché to suggest as much, but really it is all about form on the day.

There is a cut and seriousness about Kilkenny these times that suggests their form won’t vary much. They did well in the League final. They did better against Offaly.

And the aim by management - Brian Cody, Michael Dempsey, Derek Lyng and James McGarry - will be for the team to do better again this time.

“You have to be improving as you go through the championship,” has been Cody’s line for years. Simple! True!

Galway manager, Anthony Cunningham has suggested the squad has trained well since the Laois match, and the players have responded positively to the scare they got. Injuries will rob them of the services of Joseph Cooney (ankle) and Niall Healy (cruciate), but they welcome back Andy Smith, who did so well against the Noresiders in the semi-final.

On top of that, the Portumna club crew are integrated fully in things again, so Anthony Cunningham and his selectors will be playing with a strong hand.

Cunningham will have every reason to look for more from their star man, Joe Canning, who was anonymous against Kilkenny in the League semi-final. If it was an off day for him, it wasn’t for Daithi Burke at centre-back, Conor Cooney, Ronan Burke, Aidan Harte, David Collins and others.

Good game

That was a good game in Limerick. It was a match that took a bit of winning, even if Kilkenny were a little flat during the opening half. If the final hadn’t exploded as it did, we would probably be talking about that Limerick meeting as the one that showed off the class of two of the best sides in the country as present.

Forget the Laois effort! Galway will be a lot better this time.

There is a place in the Leinster final there for whoever can produce the bigger performance on Sunday!

With the Walsh Cup and League titles secured already, Kilkenny won’t want to step off the winning trail now. Their high speed hurling, the hunger that marked every move; the terrific use of the ball; the creativity against Offaly sent out a message that the Cats mean business.

Okay, okay, Offaly were a poor team and the game was gone on them after a quarter of an hour. Still, Kilkenny kept driving on strongly for the 70 minutes. The message from Nowlan Park wasn’t that Kilkenny were so much better than Offaly.

It was that Kilkenny are so much better than they were last season, and everyone had better watch out.

And you know, good and all as that Nowlan Park performance was, the team that started won’t take the field against Galway. In fact, I would be surprised if there are not changes on virtually every line.

The changes might not necessarily be in personnel. They will be in make up, with Brian Hogan or Kieran Joyce possibly coming into defence; Michael Fennelly moving back into midfield and Richie Hogan making the journey forward into attack.

With Henry Shefflin and Richie Power back training, the options in attack are really good. Shefflin was powerful in the League semi win over Galway. He grabbed four points and ‘made’ four more. He was marked out of it, if you like, subsequently against Tipp, but in Limerick that day we saw a man with a huge amount to offer the county.

It is hard to see either player forcing their way back into the starting XV straight away, but an involvement at some stage cannot be ruled out.

Think of the riches added to a full-forward line - Colin Fennelly, Mark Kelly and Eoin Larkin - that mined 5-10 against Offaly.

Kilkenny are in a good place right now. The promise shown in the League wasn’t over stated. The panel is better. The prospects this season are inviting.

At each step of the road it is all about performance on the day, the day, the day. Cody will have that drilled into the players. Kilkenny ferocious appetite, and hurling, of course, can make the difference.

It looks like we could be Croke Park bound next month. That journey wasn’t made in the championship during 2013!