Yes, these all conquering Cats have nine lives!

SO IT is true in life, and not just a saying. The Cats do have nine lives!

SO IT is true in life, and not just a saying. The Cats do have nine lives!

Under the magnificent and peerless reign of manager, Brian Cody, the Kilkenny hurling Cats have now chalked up an astounding nine All-Ireland victories, and it appears that one is just as sweet as the other to the players and faithful alike, writes John Knox

The latest MacCarthy Cup success, the county’s 34th, may not have been the greatest but it had its own magic about it and it was unique for the county in that it was the first achieved in a replayed All-Ireland final. Kilkenny beat Galway by 3-22 to 3-11.

There is no boundary of achievement left to be crossed by this current mighty generation who have rewritten virtually every record in the game, and Sunday’s win over Galway in Croke Park added to the rising stock.

As well, the victory completed another All-Ireland/National League double, the fifth during the Cody reign which began in 1999. And it has set up the possibility for another shot at the All-Ireland three in-a-row next season.

Wow! Where or when will it all end?

“It is all the down the players; their talent, their commitment, their desire, their hunger to be the very best they can be,” insisted beaming manager Cody afterwards.

He passed the great Ring and Doyle

And those sterling qualities were underlined by the supreme Henry Shefflin, who claimed a record 9th All-Ireland winners’ medal on the field. He was joined on that magnificent mark by Noel Hickey, who saw action as a blood sub initially before being thrown into the fray full time from the 64th minute.

“It is a special achievement, and it is one I intend to enjoy and celebrate,” Henry said after he passed such greats as Christy Ring and John Doyle in the galaxy of hurling stars.

Kilkenny’s own Noel Skehan won nine previously, but three were won as a sub.

The beating of well organised Galway was planned meticulously, and executed with precision, the qualities of speed, skill and especially an unrelenting work-rate that has been the hallmark of the Cody era very much to the fore again.

The first shot in the slaying of Galway was fired when the selectors, Messrs Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty, with the manager, picked their team and opted to include the 6’ 4” Walter Walsh for his championship debut and first 70 minute game, plus his under-21 colleague, Cillian Buckley. Such moves might be classed as daring, risky even, but the trio knew their men and the players rewarded the belief shown in them by turning in sterling showings, Walsh shooting a hard to credit 1-3.

Then the way Kilkenny neutralised Galway’s packed defence style of play, a style that has been a winner throughout the championship, by more or less holding their regular shape in defence and winning all the battles in the middle third of the field where they were crucified in the drawn tie meant they dictated the heartbeat of the game more or less from the start.

A spectacular catch of a Galway puck-out by centre-back, Brian Hogan, in front of the Hill 16 end in the second minute, followed by a defiant raised fist to his colleagues, set the agenda.

Multiple small achievements, but so, so big in promise and significance followed – an early free count of 6-1 against Galway showed the pressure they were under; a 13th minute point by Henry Shefflin was stolen after a defender was hounded into spilling the ball; an encouraging slap on the back by Shefflin on Walter Walsh in the 19th minute was the acknowledgement of a small win after the latter bundled an opponent over the sideline in the shadow of the Hogan Stand; a brilliant hook by Richie Hogan on Iarla Tannian in the 20th minute coughed up a point for Eoin Larkin; and an uplifting 22nd minute point from midfield by Richie Power arrived after Galway were forced back out the field from the Kilkenny 20 metre line before the scorer intercepted what was a second hand pass.

Might have been penalty

And Walter Walsh might have earned a penalty in the 32nd minute when Galway goalie, James Skehill, who carried a shoulder injury into the game and was forced to retire at half-time, appeared to trip the Tullogher-Rosbercon lad when he contested a loose ball in the goal area.

No matter where the Galway players turned they ran into black and amber traffic, it appeared, and they were all but run over.

When Galway hit the defending champs for two goals in as many minutes just beyond the opening quarter they went in front for the one and only time in the match, 2-2 to 0-5.

That double blast of goals from David Burke (15th and 17th minutes) after first touching home a delivery from Iarla Tannion from the edge of the square, and then finishing a smashing move involving Cyril Donnellan and Damien Hayes, prompted a ferocious backlash from the champions. The vicious, wounded Cats hit back for 1-6 without reply, with the run starting quickly with an 18th minute goal from Richie Power, who doubled a ground shot home from close range after Eoin Larkin forced ’keeper, James Skehill to make a save.

The points then flowed from Larkin, after the delightful hook by Hogan; Power, after the interception mentioned; Shefflin (free) following a foul on Larkin; Walter Walsh after receiving a directed low pass from Shefflin and Shefflin again before Richie Hogan, who showed an unerring touch as a roving, probing full-forward, completed the best scoring run of the match.

By half-time Kilkenny’s high revving game had taken them 1-11 to 2-4 clear. Galway looked more than a little troubed. The tables were turned from when they had been the dictators in the Leinster final and drawn match three weeks ago.

The signs looked promising, good even. The Cats were purring. Michael Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Richie Power, T.J. Reid and especially Eoin Larkin, all of whom had difficulty finding their best game the last day, were flying this time. And Walter Walsh had made a good start, with two points already deposited in the bank.

And stars of the last day, Paul Murphy, Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin were flying again. And as ever, Kieran Joyce was sure and capable and operating with absolute efficiency.

Yet Galway were defiant. They were there, there chasing what would have been their first senior success since 1988 until the match bounded just beyond the third quarter. Between the 43rd and 48th minutes Lady Luck turned her back on them, they might feel.

First Cyril Donnellan had the ball in the net in the 43rd minute, but play was called back because the referee had blown for a foul on David Burke, rightly in my opinion. Joe Canning tapped over a free, and then added a second point from a sideline cut on the right into the Canal End, the ball going over via the left upright.

Daisy cutter back off post

Four minutes later Canning saw a daisy cutter from the left inside the ‘14’ come back into play off the butt of the far post. The ball was lashed up the field, and Cillian Buckley turned an escape at one end into a Kilkenny point at the other (1-14 to 2-7).

Things got even worse for Galway in the 48th minute when Cyril Donnellan was red carded after striking J.J. Delaney with a hurley, the latter receiving five stitches in the wound afterwards.

Down a man, but not short on spirit, Galway continued to chase but the match was always going away from them after that as Kilkenny operated with Paul Murphy as the free man in defence.

After the sending off, Kilkenny struck for three unanswered points in as many minutes through Michael Fennelly, after receiving a quick, short free from Richie Power, Walter Walsh and Shefflin (free) after a hurley-less T.J. Reid had been tripped (1-15 to 2-7).

There was an exchange of points after that before Walter Walsh lashed home Kilkenny’s second goal from the edge of the square to finish off a beautiful incisive move involving Richie Hogan, Henry Shefflin and Reid, whose shot was blocked but the ball ran away from the ’keeper.

The difference was 2-19 to 2-8. The early breakers were on their way.

Just beyond the hour mark Kilkenny’s latest victory was signed and sealed. First Kieran Joyce pointed a massive free from his own ‘50’ and then substitute Colin Fennelly got to the end of a fast delivery from the Kilkenny half to swipe the ball one-handed into the net.

The score was 3-20 to 2-8. Game over!

As the shadows of the autumn evening began to flow across the manicured Croke Park sward the lights were going out for Galway on this championship season. It was the Cats who were again shining, dazzling even.

The fans wanted this one for the players. A replay All-Ireland final victory was unique. A nice way for the high achievers to sign off on another glorious season.

Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Kieran Joyce, Michael Fennelly, Cillian Buckley, Eoin Larkin (capt), Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan, Richie Power. Subs – Colin Fennelly for W. Walsh 58th min; Noel Hickey for Joyce 64th min; Aidan Fogarty for Reid (inj) 65th min.

Galway – James Skehill, Johnny Coen, Kevin Hynes, Fergal Moore, Niall Donoghue, Tony Og Regan, David Collins, Iarla Tannian, Andrew Smith, David Burke, Niall Burke, Cyril Donnellan, Damien Hayes, Joe Canning, James Regan. Subs – Joseph Cooney for N. Donoghue 27th min; Jonathan Glynn for J. Regan 33rd min; Fergal Flannery for Skehill (inj) ht; Conor Cooney for N. Burke 52nd min; Davy Glennon for A. Smith 63rd 

Scorers: Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (0-9, five frees, two 65s’); Walter Walsh (1-3); Richie Power (1-2); Richie Hogan (0-3); Colin Fennelly (1-0); Kieran Joyce (0-1, free); Michael Fennelly, Cillian Buckley, T.J. Reid, Eoin Larkin (0-1 each). Galway - Joe Canning (0-9, five frees, one 65); David Burke (2-0); Jonathan Glynn (1-0); Tony Og Regan, Andrew Smith (0-1 each).

Referee – James McGrath (Westmeath).

Frees - Kilkenny 17 (7 and 7); Galway 11 4 and 7).

Wides - Kilkenny 11 (6 and 5); Galway 8 (4 and 4).

Attendance – 82,274, a mere 26 short of a capacity crowd.