SUPER charged and fearsome Kilkenny may have sent out a serious warning by beating their last two opponents by a combined total of 30 points, but challengers Galway are undaunted as they looked to Croke Park and the Leinster senior hurling final on Sunday.
The Connacht side may have admired the defending All-Ireland champions for the skill and application they showed in the National League final win over Cork (3-21 to 0-16) and in the Leinster semi-final against Dublin (2-21 to 0-9), but they are eagerly looking forward to stepping into the ring with the team of the moment.
“No, it is not going to be easy, no,” admitted helpful Galway manager, Anthony Cunningham in response when one set the scene for a chat on Sunday’s game by reference to Kilkenny’s last two matches.
“Kilkenny are going great guns. They are going from strength to strength. In the Leinster final is where we want to be. Kilkenny are the team we want to play. That is no disrespect to anyone else. We want to test ourselves against the best, and Kilkenny are the best.”
Didn’t duck or dive
Mr Cunningham didn’t duck or dive or attempt to paint a gloomy picture about any possible outcome. Galway weren’t going to Croker to be walked on was the thrust of his comments.
“We are going to Croke Park to try hard,” he assured. “We are going to Croke Park to win. Kilkenny have fantastic form behind them. They have given fantastic service to Leinster and the All-Ireland series over the past 10, 12 or 14 years so they have huge experience.
“We will be trying hard. We have a young team which is going to learn and it will have a go. There is no team ever without hope. This is our biggest match. It is what we have been training for all year.
“We have gained in confidence from our matches from the latter half of the League and the start of the championship. We couldn’t have asked for any more, really.”
Qualifying for the Leinster final was one goal Galway set in the championship. Only by so doing could they tick the box in terms of progress this season.
“You can’t train for the experience we will get from the Leinster final, and what you get from big match days in Croke Park,” the boss said with enthusiasm in his voice. “Big games take on a life of their own. Coping in such situations is all part of the learning process.”
Mr Cunningham shares the team handling duties with Tom Helebert and Matty Kenny and all, it has been stressed, have an equal say. They know one of the things they have to address is the intensity Kilkenny bring to hurling.
“Every other team is trying to emulate what they are doing,” said the man who captained Galway to an All-Ireland success at minor level in 1983. “They are probably a more mature, established team than all the rest. The intensity, the work-rate and their touch is extremely good, top class.
“There is never a bad touch by a Kilkenny player, really. We have to try and match them. I know Dublin were disappointed with their performance in the last match. You couldn’t read a whole pile into that.”
He reminded that the only really bad day Galway have had this season was against Kilkenny in the League when they were blasted to the tune of 3-26 to 0-10 when Eoin Larkin and T.J. Reid weight in with 1-7 and 1-6 respectively.
“There is no better place to put that right than in the next match,” Mr Cunningham suggested. “That performance was an unfair reflection of us. We got off to a very good start in the League. We know we are pitting ourselves against the best. That is what good players should always want to do in whatever sport you are involved.”
Galway’s hurling wonder, Joe Canning, missed that League clash, but he is back motoring again after injury and he is ready.
“We will have everyone available,” was the up front word from the manager. “That is a big plus for us.”
David Collins is back from injury, as is goalkeeper, James Skehill.
“We are really looking forward to taking on this challenge,” he assured.
The Galway Board has reorganised the running of the local championship in a bid to bring a more competitive edge to matches, and the competition is currently in full swing. In fact, some of the players who will line out with the county on Sunday were in action with their clubs at the weekend.
The championship is well over three quarters way through the programme of matches, and a number of teams are already through to the quarter-finals.
“Galway had an extensive review of the whole structures and methods last winter,” Mr Cunningham explained.
More competitive matches
The idea was to give clubs more matches and hurling, particularly at the end of the National League right up to the inter-county championship.
“It was felt change was needed to make the championship more competitive,” Mr Cunningham continued. “Things are moving along nicely.
“The way our management team work is that we pick on form. We place a lot of emphasis on the form of players at club level. Thankfully the lads who are in with us are going well at club level.
“I would be very happy with the way the championship is going to date. It may need a bit of fine tuning, but so far so good.”
Galway, one got the impression, were a work in progress, a project that wouldn’t be completed in the short term. Every victory, every good effort was viewed as a step in the right direction after years of disappointment on the championship trail.
“A team could be frightened by what Kilkenny did to Dublin, but Dublin just didn’t perform,” Mr Cunningham said when he looked back on the Cats last match. “They did very well against Kilkenny in the League. They won the League last year and got to within a puck of the ball of qualifying for the All-Ireland final.
“That didn’t reflect itself the last day. In the opening minutes they didn’t play. You get days like that. You cannot afford not to play against Kilkenny.
“Look what they did to Cork and Dublin? We will be fully charged, fully right. We are fully ready. It is one helluva battle we are facing. It is something we are totally looking forward to, and hopefully it will go well.”