IT WAS A strange atmosphere that descended on Croke Park after Barry Kelly’s final whistle following Sunday’s All-Ireland final, writes Trevor Spillane.
With neither side winners nor losers, the Kilkenny and Galway players trooped off the field in a hush, lost in their own thoughts after pulsating game.
The stillness was in the air in the Kilkenny dressing-room, but midfielder Michael Fennelly was able to grasp some comfort from the draw, even after Joe Canning’s injury-time free denied the Cats a 34th All-Ireland.
“It wasn’t the worst result we could have suffered,” he reflected. “At half-time we came in five points down - I suppose we might have taken a draw at that stage!”
The quietness was more through some self-reflection for the 2011 Hurler of the Year.
“Personally I’m disappointed in my own performance,” he said. “That’s the key reason why I’m so down but at least we’ll get another crack at Galway. Three weeks seems a long way away, but we have time to make good preparations.
“I think everyone is disappointed because we were ahead by a point there in the last few minutes and we gave away a free that levelled it up,” he added. “It was probably the fair result, maybe from a neutral’s point of view. At least we get another chance.”
While parity might have been the fair result, the contentious free that led to the injury-time leveller wasn’t. Despite that, Fennelly refused to be drawn on it.
“That’s the way it goes some times,” he said. “We’ll have to learn a lot from that for the next day as we gave away too many frees out there in the whole game. Galway are a very good team and they have a lot of runners who brought a different challenge for us. We’re not used to that style - guys coming at you from all angles - but it was a good test. Hopefully we’ll have another 80,000 people in Croke Park to watch it.
“The Dublin and Tipp minors drew their final so I’m sure everyone would agree that the results weren’t the worst-case scenario,” he continued. “Everyone gets another bite at it.”
Still, it could have been so different.
Kilkenny had their hands on the title going into injury-time, a factor that must have stung the Cats. “Maybe a little, but I don’t know if that would have been a fair result,” he said. “Too many of us didn’t have the best of games - we didn’t play up to scratch - but the way Galway came at us perhaps they stopped us from hurling our best. They’re a good team, but we’ve another 70 minutes of hurling left in us. Hopefully we can do it the next day.”
In a strange see-saw game two Galway goals kept the Tribesmen on full charge at different spells. The Kilkenny backs did well to nullify Joe Canning in the second half, but those two major strikes did plenty of damage to Kilkenny’s cause.
“Their goals were a real boost,” said the Cats midfielder. “They can do that for any team, especially with 80,000 people in a stadium because they get the crowd going which gets you going too.
“I think two of our lads clashed for their second goal but that’s the way it goes,” he added. “Our half-back line got on top in the second half and there wasn’t much going in to Galway’s full-forward line and nothing going to Joe so there was little he could do.
“At the other end Colin had a goal chance and their goalkeeper pulled off a great save,” added the older Fennelly brother. “We got a free from it and Henry put it over the bar, but if we could have pulled those three or four points ahead - we couldn’t extend our lead far enough - it might have been different, but it just goes to show how good Galway were. They kept coming back, kept plugging away.
“It was a good test and I reckon it was a good game to watch,” he added. “I’d say lots of people were on the edge of their seats in the closing minutes.”