It is great to be back in the final. You can never get enough of this. The players are only 70 minutes away from the ultimate prize, if they can grab it.
All year long, or nine months of it, they have been building towards getting this chance. The All-Ireland final is a fantastic place to be for the players and all involved, and the county too. There is a great feeling around, but it is all to play for, all to play for, in this game.
A lot of people though it was going to be a Kilkenny/Tipperary final. I am from a border area and the talk was Tipp were going well; Kilkenny were going well. The signs were..... Galway are in this final on merit, no one need think otherwise.
I was looking at their semi against Tipperary again, and Galway were nearly a replica of Kilkenny. Take off the maroon and white jerseys and you could say Kilkenny were playing. That is because of their work-rate, their skill level their relentless approach.
Used time well
The three or four weeks they had to work on their game after the Leinster final defeat were used very well. The things that stood out for me were their work-rate, the intensity of the forwards play and their distribution of the ball. They were most impressive.
They have done serious work on those aspects of their play. I think Anthony Cunningham (the manager) has studied Kilkenny and the way they played. That is no disrespect to Galway. He saw things to work. They beat a very good Tipperary team by simply strangling their every effort.
It was a brilliant game of hurling. They did the hard work. They did the fundamentals right. They had the intensity, and they never let a setback, and there were a number with Seamus Callanan’s goals, knock them out of their stride. It was some performance!
They way they shrugged off the knocks of Callanan’s goals was a great sign of the team’s superb spirit. They had the nerve and steel to get a point or two back immediately each time. They were vital scores to get after a big setback.
Even into the closing three minutes in extra-time they kept going. They just went for it. The backs just went for the ball. There was no space. It was go, go, go. And then the wonderful finish, the composure shown by Joe Canning to make the chance for Shane Moloney to put the winning point over the bar.
Great team performance
That was no ordinary, lucky or whatever team performance. It was a superb team effort. People have to bear that in mind when making any calculations about the possible outcome of the final.
Galway are different than they were in the Leinster final. They are much better, and they were good then. That day Kilkenny were just that bit better. Since then Galway have turned in two big performances. Galway are in a great position heading into this final.
I think Anthony Cunningham knew there was another gear in Galway after the Leinster final. He was disappointed after losing, but there was still a confidence about him was striking.
They have learned a lot about Kilkenny in recent years - the All-Ireland and replay in 2012; the championship draw and replay last season and this year’s Leinster final. To me they have concluded that the way to beat Kilkenny is with Kilkenny’s own game, savage work-rate and so on; hunger and relentless work from the forwards.
To me they will try and play Kilkenny at their own game.
How do Kilkenny cope with that? Kilkenny are the masters of their own game. They virtually invented work-rate, or at least the level they now play at. There is no better artist than the original Picasso. They have perfected the art of hard work in games, and it has helped them win so much.
Kilkenny’s work-rate over the 70 minutes will out do Galway’s work-rate. Kilkenny have been doing this for years, in training, in matches. This approach is slightly new to Galway, but Kilkenny have become better and better at it.
I feel Kilkenny are in a better situation, even if Galway have played more championship matches. Galway showed their hand. They showed Kilkenny what they will bring to the final.
Kilkenny won their three games nicely. That was all they had to do. Now they are ready to peak. I have a feeling there are two more gears Kilkenny can find. I can feel it. This is a massive game, and Kilkenny will rise to the challenge. It is going to be very tight.
Whatever XV Brian Cody puts out, I would have complete confidence in it. I believe Kilkenny will win. Their spirit will get them through.
Nothing is more important than spirit in a team to help get them over the line on the big days. That is the unseen ‘biggie’, if you like. When things get really tough on the field, it is spirit that can drag you through.
People have been saying Tipp showed how you can beat Galway, by shooting direct ball into a high fielding full-forward. Tipp had Callanan. Kilkenny have T.J. (Reid), Richie Hogan or Walter (Walsh).
Kilkenny have their own well rehearsed way of playing, and they won’t change. They play games their way, and on their terms. They don’t change their style much against any opposition.
Kilkenny will talk a small bit about Galway, but the main emphasis will be on getting their own game right. They say you can’t win the All-Ireland from here to Sunday, but you can certainly lose it. Letting the mind stray; losing focus can kill you. The more low key Kilkenny are, the more dangerous they are. I feel the focus is there. By God, they are hungry.