Champions Kilkenny will be aiming for the ‘Perfect 10’ in the Allianz National Hurling League final against Tipperary on Sunday week in Thurles.
In what will be their 10th League final during the honour laden reign of manager, Brian Cody, and 10th game in the current campaign, the ever improving Cats will be hoping to maintain their perfect record against the Premier County in the competition in the current era.
Since the Cody era dawned in 1999 the counties have clashed in the League finals in 2013, 2009 and 2003. Tipperary have been beaten in all three.
“Obviously when you are in the final you want to win the final. Why wouldn’t you?” Cody said of the bid for what would be the county’s 17th title.
Kilkenny set up the defence of the title following a mixed but yet strong performance against Galway in the semi-final in Limerick on Sunday. While there were some outstanding individual showings during the first half, the team as a whole simply didn’t click.
The losers led by 0-11 to 0-6 at the break after out-scoring their opponents by 0-6 to 0-1 during the closing 13 minutes of the half.
When backed by the wind during the second period Kilkenny, again with some outstanding performers, but this time with a more effective team effort, slowly squeezed the life out of defiant opponents.
Particularly pleasing was the prominent role played by the new kids on the block. New arrivals Padraig Walsh and Brian Kennedy starred in both halves; Cillian Buckley was massive too, and John Power turned in a good performance.
As if to mark the high point of his effort in an absolutely appropriate fashion, Walsh fielded a high ball over the head of centre-back, Brian Hogan and opponent, Conor Cooney, in the 67th minute before shooting a wonderful point from 65 metres. The play of the afternoon!
Kennedy is a great ‘stick man’ in the mould of former great and club colleague, Michael Kavanagh. His pace and bite in the tackle - he got in a few lovely interceptions and hooks - and well placed clearances made his a showing of a quality.
That pair produced the stand out showings of the first half, although Paul Murphy was in the mix too, with Buckley and Brian Hogan showing to good effect also. All added to the credits after the turn, when J.J. Delaney, the captain for the day, continued to keep Galway danger man, Joe Canning, on such a tight leash he was hardly noticeable.
Further afield the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent of Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly and T.J. Reid were hugely effective. Shefflin, as finisher and defence splitter/chance creator, is peerless in the current game. The last chapter of a great career is being written. Don’t miss any instalment!
Colin Fennelly is having to work harder now for gains than when he moved to the centre-forward role with such success earlier in the season. The thing is, he takes on the hard work and he continues to run up the scores. He had a smashing goal scored in the 34th minute wiped because it was ruled he had fouled his opponent in the run up to the play. It was a 50/50 call because both players were pulling and dragging, but the finishing strike was sublime. Disappointment this time could be joy the next day!
T.J. Reid turned in a big showing against Wexford in the previous game. He soared beyond that this time. T.J. is a natural finisher, plain and simple.
Michael Fennelly started his first game since last July and following an extended trip to Australia. He looked in needed of the action to hone reaction time and breaking speed to the ball. There is a lot more to come from this department, and from Richie Hogan too, who might curb a tendency to travel when in possession and deliver the ball away quicker.
Overall a good showing, with the indicator of improvement on the up and up. Sunday’s team had a new look defence. On the evidence of this strong showing, it will be hard to change things for the final.
Galway, who are getting things together nicely for the championship, had star men in Daithi Burke at centre-back, Conor Cooney, Ronan burke, Aidan Harte and David Collins.
The losers opened backed by the wind blowing towards the Ennis Road end. There was little or nothing between the teams for 20 minutes or so when 10 scores were evenly divided. The action could be described as ordinary rather than warm or hot.
From there to the rest Galway got a hold around midfield, with Padraig Brehony very prominent. With the help of a point from Cathal Mannion and five from Conor Cooney they build up an interval lead of 0-11 to 0-6. Kilkenny’s inability to win ball on the opposing ‘40’ late in the half was a concern.
Just before the rest Colin Fennelly had that earlier mentioned goaled disallowed, and T.J. Reid, following a cheeky over-head pass from John Power, nearly found the net too in the 21st minute. Goalie Colm Callan brought off a good body block.
Kilkenny were slow out of the dressing-room for the new half, but once they started, they powered on. An early foul on Henry Shefflin earned T.J. Reid a point from a free. Brian Hogan was inspiring. Two powerful drives from the No. 6 spot made points for Colin Fennelly and Reid during the next few minutes. Even more than that, Hogan’s runs injected real momentum into the team.
By the 45th minute it all square at 0-11 each. Kilkenny’s fourth unanswered score came from Reid (free) following a foul on Mark Kelly, before an inch perfect clearance from Kennedy to Shefflin created the equaliser.
Galway regained the lead through Andrew Smith. Padraig Walsh answered, with Walter Walsh and John Power very involved in the build-up.
The losers edged in front again, but the next Kilkenny score in the 54th minute was the ‘nailer’. A huge free from goalie, Eoin Murphy, was fielded and finished to the net by John Power (1-13 to 0-12). There were near misses and close calls at both ends afterwards, but the Cats were in no mood to surrender.
Scorers: Kilkenny - T.J. Reid (0-5, four frees); Henry Shefflin (0-4); Colin Fennelly (0-3); John Power (1-0); Padraig Walsh (0-2); Cillian Buckley, Michael Fennelly (0-1 each). Galway - Conor Cooney (0-8, three frees, one 65); Andrew Smith (0-2); Colm Callanan (0-1, free); David Burke, Niall Burke, Joe Canning, Cathal Mannion (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Brian Kennedy; Padraig Walsh, Brian Hogan, Cillian Buckley; Michael Fennelly, Richie Hogan; Walter Walsh, Colin Fennelly, T.J. Reid; John Power, Mark Kelly, Henry Shefflin. Subs - Lester Ryan for W. Walsh 55th min; Aidan Fogarty for R. Hogan 64th min; J.J. Farrell for C. Fennelly 69th min.
Galway - Colm Callanan; Johnny Coen, Ronan Burke, David Collins; Aidan Harte, Joe Cooney, Daithi Burke; David Burke, Padraig Brehony; Niall Burke, Conor Cooney, Andrew Smith; Joe Canning, Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion. Subs - Davy Glennon for N. Burke 47th min; Damien Hayes for P. Brehony 55th min; Jason Flynn for Mannion 68th min.
Referee - James McGrath (Westmeath).
Attendance - 20,452.