Replay a game Cats just did not want

Twenty eight minutes into the second half of Sunday’s enthralling Leinster hurling encounter between Kilkenny and Galway, the Cats led by 10 points, writes Nickey Brennan.

Twenty eight minutes into the second half of Sunday’s enthralling Leinster hurling encounter between Kilkenny and Galway, the Cats led by 10 points, writes Nickey Brennan.

The Westerners fate looked sealed. Their supporters were heading for the exits, apparently disillusioned at yet another thumping from Kilkenny.

Between the 53rd and 63rd minutes Kilkenny scored 1-8 with Galway failing to raise a flag. Such was the Kilkenny dominance that Galway’s hurling year appeared to be disintegrating.

When a team is in freefall it can either throw in the towel or hang on in the hope that an angel or something can rescue them. A pointed 65 from Conor Cooney was followed by another point from Jason Flynn on the half hour mark.

T.J. Reid replied with a point, which appeared to herald a routine ending. But then came the fireworks!

Galway, as expected, switched both Joe Canning and Iarla Tannion from their selected positions at the start of the game and both benefited from their new locations. The first half was tight with the teams trading scores.

The closeness of the exchanges forced referee Johnny Ryan into flashing a few yellow cards. It helped to cool the tension and the Tipperary official delivered a solid performance.

Joe Canning won a lot of aerial ball from his side’s puck outs in the first half and this piled a lot of pressure on the Kilkenny rearguard. Eoin Murphy came to Kilkenny’s rescue in the 18th minute with a brilliant save from Jason Flynn.

That Galway miss looked more glaring moments later when Eoin Larkin shot to the Westerners’ net. Colm Callanan will be disappointed not to have saved Larkin’s effort.

Galway’s opening goal was the first of many calamitous mistakes by the Kilkenny defence. Eoin Murphy should have left the dropping ball to J.J. Delaney and his marker, Niall Burke and watched for the outcome. It was a goal that should have been prevented.

A draw at the interval was a fair reflection on the outcome of the opening half. Richie Hogan ran the show for Kilkenny from midfield, with Colin Fennelly and T.J. Reid popped over some smashing points.

I was surprised that Jonathan Glynn did not start for Galway and his second half introduction had a profound impact on the game. A goal from Colin Fennelly in the seventh minute of the second half following a Mark Kelly pass edged Kilkenny ahead, but it did not take long for Galway to grab their second goal.

Glynn was hauled-down and Joe Canning duly despatched the resultant penalty to the net to level the game. A minute later Galway were ahead when Joe Canning pointed after initially striking a poor line ball.

For the next 10 minutes Kilkenny completely took over and their work rate was tops. Points flowed from all angles and distances. When T.J. Reid planted the ball in the net followed an exquisite pass from Tommy Walsh, Galway’s fate looked sealed.

But then Kilkenny completely lost its composure all over the field, particularly in defence. Galway will emerge strong from this remarkable encounter. Confidence will be high after the sensational comeback.

Kilkenny did not want a replay and one must wonder what impact another game in six days will have on the players. Brian Cody and his fellow mentors have much to ponder. Every sector of the team will come under scrutiny and changes are inevitable.

Richie Hogan was superb all through, with major contributions also from T.J. Reid, Padraig Walsh and Colin Fennelly. Kilkenny badly missed Michael Fennelly, while it was surprising that Lester Ryan was not introduced.

The pendulum has now swung back in Galway’s favour. The challenge facing Kilkenny on Saturday is as big as they have encountered in a long time.

Brian Cody will have the Cats sorted mentally, but whether the bodies can recover physically in six days remains to be seen. Despite the doubts, I will stand by Kilkenny to win the replay.