Most of the focus will be on the last free awarded to Galway (which was not a legitimate free), but it really would have been cruel on the Tribesmen to lose by a single point after a hugely existing All-Ireland hurling final, writes Nickey Brennan.
We have seen better finals, but for sheer drama and excitement it was hard to beat the closing 10 minutes. A draw looked a decided possibility from the mid-point in the second half.
We thought that once Kilkenny went ahead with a little over ten minutes remaining that Galway might wilt - not a bit of it!
Admittedly the Westerners had a slice of luck with their second goal when a misunderstanding between two Kilkenny defenders saw Niall Burke shoot past David Herity.
The momentum was now very much with Galway, but not for the first time in this terrific encounter, Henry Shefflin rallied his team to claw back Galway’s lead.
Kilkenny had real problems all over the field in the first half. Galway, with sixty per cent possession in that period should have led more comfortably than five points at the break.
The crucial period of the half came in the closing five minutes when three Kilkenny pointed free (following some careless Galway tackling) was a real tonic for the Cats. Joe Canning did point a late free, but a five point deficit was a lot better than eight.
The Joe Canning goal epitomised some of Kilkenny’s disappointing opening half play. Galway defenders had acres of space to clear the ball unchallenged and when it landed in the vicinity of the Kilkenny goal; the Cats’ defenders appeared hesitant in attacking the ball.
It was a big score for Galway and they started to dominate the game for the remaining of the half. One can never write off Kilkenny but the faces of supporters in the Hogan Stand at the interval bore a pessimistic outlook.
Galway’s aerial dominance
Kilkenny’s high ball tactics into its forwards did not work in the opening thirty minutes as Galway defended heroically, opting to bat the ball back rather than catch it.
We have become accustomed to Kilkenny’s aerial prowess, but it was Galway who lorded the skies in the first half. Even Brian Hogan, probably the most dominant defensive aerial performer in the game was out-fielded on a number of occasions by Niall Burke.
As Kilkenny trekked off the pitch at the interval, one felt that even the paint on the Croke Park dressing room walls would feel the wrath of Brian Cody’s tongue-lashing.
We know Cody takes no prisoners when a game is ebbing away from the Cats. That was surely the case at 4.10 p.m. last Sunday as there was no denying that the opening thirty five minutes did not see a good performance from Kilkenny.
We had great faith in Cody to rally the troops even if the momentum was very much with Galway. True to form Kilkenny was a transformed side in the second half.
A point within a minute laid down a clear marker to Galway that Kilkenny was not about to give up its title easily. However, this was never going to be a day when Kilkenny would pull away from its opponents.
This is a terrific Galway side and their confidence will have grown even further after last Sunday’s performance. For a long period it looked like the eager young legs were going to out-run the greatest team in the sports history.
But we have Henry, a great hurler and a true leader of men. Kilkenny had many terrific performances most notably from Paul Murphy, Brian Hogan (in the second half) and TK Reid but thank God for Shefflin. His display deserved a ninth medal.
That opportunity will return to Henry and the Cats in three weeks, leaving plenty of time for Brian Cody and his colleagues to analyse last Sunday’s performance.
There is a hell of a lot of hurling yet to be played in this year’s championship.
Momentum with Cats in under-21 decider
It does not guarantee success at senior level, but most counties fortunate enough to get hold of the Liam McCarthy Cup can usually point to a successful Minor or Under 21 crop of players.
Kilkenny has perfected the art of converting underage success into senior success, better than the rest and, particularly so, over the past couple of decades. Never underestimate what underage success does for a player!
The confidence gained from winning a Celtic Cross helps to define the character of a young hurler. Some, of course, fall by the wayside, but many emerge to backbone the senior side.
Both Clare and Kilkenny will be looking to their Under 21 sides who line out in Semple Stadium next Sunday in the All-Ireland Under 21 Final to backbone their senior squad over the next decade.
A number of the current Clare Under 21 side are already established members of Davy Fitzgerald’s senior squad. Their senior status may have come a little earlier than some would have wished, but Fitzgerald clearly felt they were up to the task.
Kilkenny has not had the same need to introduce Under 21 players to senior level with Cillian Buckley the only player to have seen competitive action. Three more are already part of the senior squad, while a few others can expect the call to senior action next year.
The last time the sides met in an Under 21 final (2009) the Banner came out on top (0-15 to 0-14), but it was a game Kilkenny probably should have won had more scoring opportunities been converted.
As the Clare Herald newspaper said the week after the game - “The Banner County was on the ropes with 15 minutes left on the clock”. We now know that a late rally saw the Clare men win a great game in front of a crowd of over 25,000.
Around twelve of that successful Clare panel is now on the senior side. Last Sunday’s senior Kilkenny squad had six of that Under 21 panel.
To judge the worth of this current Clare squad one has to only look at their Munster championship performances as their facile semi-final win over Antrim was no more than a modest training run.
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