Kilkenny’s unique version of ‘Operation Transformation’ may have more to do with body shape than mass, and it is progressing well.
The Cats are not into weight loss as heralded by the popular TV show. Instead, manager Brian Cody’s ‘Operation Kilkenny’ has more to do with body shape - of the team, that is - and by the end of the current Allianz National Hurling League and before the start of the Leinster championship the actual make up of the team as we have come to known and expect it could be so different.
Here we are three games into a testing League campaign, with each team for each game different to the last, and yet the Cats remain firmly on track to make the knock-out stages. The manager and selectors are treading a fine line in trying to win matches and at the same time give new players game time, but right now the call has to be: ‘so far, so good’.
“We are doing okay,” was the keep it cool comment from Mr Cody after Galway, albeit a Galway team without their Portumna contingent, were seen off with more ease than the scoreline might suggest at Nowlan Park on Sunday. “I said at the start of the League we would try and look at players to build as strong a panel as we possibly can. There’s a lot of players getting game time and you’d certainly be happy with them.”
“The attitude continues to be top class,” came the reply. “We’re competitive and we are working hard for each other. There’s a realisation that places are
up for grabs.”
Funny sort of game
The winners played without Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin, Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, J.J. Delaney, Brian Hogan and Colin Fennelly, who scored 3-5 the last day against Tipperary, outside the listed 26 players, and still they won.
It was a funny sort of game in ways. Galway might have scored three goals during the first half. Kilkenny might have scored three more during the second period. Galway finished well, and out-gunned the opposition by 1-4 to 0-1 during the closing 12 minutes, but still they never had the look of a winning team.
“There wasn’t much in it at the finish,” insisted Galway boss, Anthony Cunningham. “We were happy with our battle in the last 20 minutes, but there was a while when we were off it. It’s all about performances and we saw certain things that went well but we need to do that for 70 minutes.”
For Kilkenny there is a lot of encouraging news surrounding the squad. Richie Hogan went really well at centre-forward on Sunday. He won some lovely ball in the air. Every time he gained possession he looked capable of scoring.
Geoff Brennan did exactly that during a storming opening when he snatched three points in 14 minutes. Mark Kelly is making tremendous progress at full-forward. His blistering pace on the turn and in full flight, and his fearless approach, have him at the head of the queue of the ‘could make it men’.
Padraig Walsh, on the strength of a very good second half, is moving in the right direction too. Brian Kennedy continues to grow in self belief, a point underlined by a neat back pass to his ’keeper, an all too rare happening in hurling.
Cillian Buckley was terrific as a link man. He was always available to take a pass from a colleague, and especially Jackie Tyrrell, during the closing half when he was on the ball a lot. Emerging full-back Michael Walsh did little wrong, and while goalie Eoin Murphy was very busy cleaning up bits and pieces, he did it all with a nice touch and impressive vision.
Oh yes, fans favourite Walter Walsh had another good outing. The lad’s game is improving, and his shooting, especially when he gets to do it at pace from the right wing, is hugely impressive. Lester Ryan continues to look the part at centre-back, but one gets the impression he is ready to perform is just about any position.
The team didn’t leave fans waiting long to get warmed up. The ball was in the Galway net within 80 seconds of the start. Mark Kelly did the planting, and just like against Tipperary, it was at the end of a bustling run. A second goal in the dying seconds of the half by the on fire Richie Hogan, after a flick on by Jonjo Farrell, left the visitors in a bit of trouble when 0-8 to 2-11 behind.
In fairness to Galway, they might have goaled three times during that half. Cathal Mannion set up Davy Glennon in front of the city end goal in the eight minute, but Lester Ryan foiled him. Glennon looked to be through again in the 19th minute, but Niall Healy’s hand-pass was over cooked and it missed the intended target. Then in the 21st minute Conor Cooney had a 20-metre free blocked out following a foul on Healy.
At one stage in the half the winners led by 1-5 to 0-2, and such was the zest in the hurling of Hogan, Brennan (Geoff), Walsh (Walter) and Kelly that they threatened a rout. That group plundered 2-7 between them by the break, with Hogan the leader with 1-2.
Galway were unable to make any real gains for a good spell after the turn. Passing the 52nd minute the divide was still nine points (2-14 to 0-11) after Richie Hogan had plucked a Kilkenny puck-out from the sky before scoring. Conor Cooney pulled back a small score for the losers before Jonjo Farrell had a goal disallowed after Kelly forced ’keeper, Colm Callanan into a blinding save, although the latter failed to control the sliotar. The call against Farrell was that he was in the square, apparently.
In the 62nd minute Farrell was unlucky again when lurking around the square, this time failing narrowly to get the final touch after a shot by Kelly came back into play off the left upright. Further on Walter Walsh was deprived of a big score, again by the brilliance of Callanan after T.J. Reid ripped open the visitors defence.
On 57 minutes T.J. Reid lofted over a free from Kilkenny to leave them within sight of victory when 2-15 to 0-12 clear. Within 60 seconds Galway had the ball in the net at the other end after Cooney blasted home a penalty following a foul on the industrious and ever threatening Gearoid McInerney (2-15 to 1-12). The topped the scoring exchanges from there to the end, but the match was beyond rescue.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Richie Hogan (1-3); T.J. Reid (0-6, four frees); Walter Walsh, Geoff Brennan (0-3 each); Mark Kelly (1-0); Jonjo Farrell (0-1). Galway - Conor Cooney (1-7, goal penalty, six points frees); Niall Healy (0-4); Gearoid McInerney (0-3); Iarla Tannian, Padraig Brehony (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy, Conor Fogarty, Michael Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell, Brian Kennedy, Lester Ryan, Cillian Buckley, Geoff Brennan, Padraig Walsh, Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan, Joe Brennan, Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, T.J. Reid. Subs - John Power for J. Brennan 48th min; Padraig Phelan for G. Brennan 60th min.
Galway - Colm Callanan, David Collins, Shane Kavanagh, Johnny Coen, Aidan Harte, Iarla Tannian, Daithi Burke, David Burke, Padraig Brehony, Cathal Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Davy Glennon, Niall Healy, Conor Cooney, Jason Flynn. Subs - Niall Burke for Mannion 46th min; Paul Killeen for Flynn 52nd min; Padraig Landers for Glennon 53rd min.
Referee - Colm Lyons (Cork).
Attendance - 8,496.