WE HAVE seen and enjoyed many an uplifting victory by Kilkenny in this current golden era, and from time to time the successes threw up different qualities or aspects of play that left us with nothing but admiration for the gifted crew who wear the colours these days, writes John Knox.
Sunday was a case in point. Eager Galway huffed and puffed. They weaved pretty hurling patterns that took hard work and skill to create as they tried to tear down the champions’ house by dragging them all over the place.
But like many a good team before them, the Westerners only succeeded in dragged the best out of Kilkenny, and in the end they were blown away, beaten by 1-24 to 1-17.
Why? They fell to the clinical efficiency of Kilkenny. Efficiency trumped grand design in Semple Stadium as the Cats qualified for an astonishing ninth Allianz National Hurling League final in 12 years.
And the bonus this time is that the final is schedule for our own Nowlan Park on Sunday week.
Great to have home final
“It will be great to play with Kilkenny in a final in Nowlan Park with a major trophy at stake,” enthused star Kilkenny defender, Paul Murphy afterwards. “You expect every final to be tough, and we will get it tough against Tipperary because they are a top class side.”
Tipperary head the League roll of honour with 19 victories, but Kilkenny are closing in fast with 15 to date, six harvested during the last 11 years. The counties last had a shoot out in the final of 2009 when the Cats took the honours.
“We are in a good place, in the League final,” said Kilkenny selector, Martin Fogarty when we spoke. “You couldn’t say last week that we had any hope of winning the League. Now we have a chance, and we will be doing our utmost to do it.”
There will be no Henry Shefflin or T.J. Reid, heroes of last year’s All-Ireland final win, to help the cause. Ah sure, being without some talent or other is normal life for Kilkenny these days, yet the quality of the performances never varies.
There used to be an advertisement on the television years ago that lauded the quality of a branded flour because it never varied. Kilkenny are the equivalent on the hurling front these times.
They just drive on and on, clocking up one win after another. The way they turned a scare at one end into a score at the other thrilled, almost to the point of amusement in Thurles.
Punished after failing to hurt
Three times during the crucial first half when Galway threatened seriously and played their best hurling they found themselves being punished immediately after failing to hurt the opposition.
As early as the 7th minute Aidan Fogarty pointed for Kilkenny, with an assist by Richie Hogan, after Galway took one touch too many at the other end before surrendering possession.
It was the same in the 28th minute when a Galway raid broke down and a quick delivery from the winners led to Richie Power almost sneaking a goal at the other end. He won a 65 instead, which was converted by Eoin Larkin.
And Lester Ryan then shot a lovely long range point in the 34th minute after the supreme Brian Hogan pinched possession from the opposition at the other end as they tried to piece together a complex move.
The difference in approach – Kilkenny’s was direct and fast – was encapsulated by the performance of Galway’s Damien Hayes at top of the left. During the first half he was a real mischief maker, and I mean a real mischief maker, yet he had to wait until the 38th minute for his one and only score.
Perhaps he was trying to be unselfish and a team player, because he invariably threw the ball around to a colleague. The generous first half possession he enjoyed should have produced richer pickings.
Compare his heavy involvement to Kilkenny’s Lester Ryan, who was a peripheral performer for much of the first half as he battled to find his way into the game. Yet the Clara man left the field at half-time with three points to his credit. Efficiency!
And then there was another important factor – the Kilkenny leaders within the team charged to the fore. Brian Hogan did so in powerful fashion. Richie Power did so too. Likewise Michael Rice, Eoin Larkin and Richie Hogan while team captain, Colin Fennelly, who charged at the opposition at every opportunity, was hugely involved too. Aidan Fogarty starred as well, and Paul Murphy recovered from a tough opening to become a dominant figure afterwards.
The losers couldn’t have asked for a better start playing into the wind. They had an early point from a free by Joe Canning before Hayes sent Cyril Donnellan raiding on the left inside the ‘14’. The latter’s whistle shot brought a superb save from goalie, Eoin Murphy, but Donnellan clipped the rebound into the net.
Kilkenny eased their way back after Richie Hogan opened their account in the fifth minute. The action was halted for nine minutes at one stage after a shocking collision between Walter Walsh and Fergal Moore, which led to the latter being carried off the field on a stretch. The good news afterwards was that he was okay, if badly shaken.
When played resumed Kilkenny appeared to regain their rhythm faster, and by the 23rd minute they were back level at 0-6 to 1-3 with Eoin Larkin doing most of the scoring from frees. Twice subsequently the scores were level (0-7 to 1-4; 0-8 to 1-5) before a Michael Rice point earned the Cats the lead in the 31st minute, 0-9 to 1-5. They were never to surrender it.
The aforementioned Lester Ryan enjoyed his first big moment in the game in the 34th minute when he took a short pass from Brian Hogan before hitting the target from 65 metres, almost on the left sideline. Before the break – nines minutes additional time were played at the end of the half – the Clara man posted two more scores to help the winners into a strong interval lead of 0-15 to 1-6.
Richie Hogan was the star man for Kilkenny for about 20 minutes or so after the turn, when he shot three scores. The third one left them on the brink of success, 0-18 to 1-9.
Fennelly goal ends it
The coup de grace was on the way. It arrived in the 45th minute. Lester Ryan blasted a ball towards the Galway goal. Colin Fennelly contested it against a defender on the edge of the square. The ball fell to the ground and the Ballyhale Shamrocks man swiped it backed handed along the ground and into the net.
The difference was 1-19 to 1-9. Galway were beaten. The earlier League result was reversed, and the All-Ireland final outcome of 2012 was confirmed.
Another battle won by Kilkenny. Another final appearance is on the horizon. Spoiled we are, absolutely spoiled!
Scorers: Kilkenny – Eoin Larkin (0-10, seven frees, two 65s’); Richie Hogan (0-5); Colin Fennelly (1-0); Lester Ryan (0-3); Aidan Fogarty, Michael Rice (0-2 each); Richie Power, Cillian Buckley (0-1 each). Galway – Joe Canning (0-8, six frees, two 65s’); Cyril Donnellan (1-3); Aidan Harte (0-2); David Burke (0-1, free); Joseph Cooney, Damien Hayes, Andrew Smith (0-1 each).
Kilkenny – Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Kieran Joyce, Lester Ryan, Michael Rice, Walter Walsh, Richie Power, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty. Subs – Matthew Ruth for W. Walsh 54th min; Cillian Buckley for C. Fennelly 61st min.
Galway – Colm Callan, Fergal Moore, Kevin Hynes, Niall Donoghue, Johnny Coen, David Collins, Aidan Harte, Iarla Tannian, Joseph Cooney, Cyril Donnellan, Conor Cooney, David Burke, Davy Glennon, Joe Canning, Damien Hayes. Subs – Andrew Smith for F. Moore (inj) 17th min; Paul Killeen for N. Donoghue 25th min; Jonathan Glynn for C. Cooney 41st min; James Regan for D. Hayes 56th min.
Referee – Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).
Attendance – 14,200.