Cat-atomic, nerve tingling, thunderous and we get to do it all over again

THE finger pointing and blame game began even before the final whistle sounded, but that matters not a jot. Now is the time to get priorities right!

THE finger pointing and blame game began even before the final whistle sounded, but that matters not a jot. Now is the time to get priorities right!

The All-Ireland hurling final replay between defending champions and National League/Championship double chasers, Kilkenny and Galway on Sunday, September 30 has to be dealt with. That is the only thing that matters, writes John Knox.

Whether referee, Barry Kelly, got the late call right or wrong that led to Galway being awarded a free from which Joe Canning shot the equalising point with 72 minutes and 39 seconds showing on the clock doesn’t matter. Round II of this intriguing tale awaits and must be dealt with.

There is nothing to be served by the county tearing itself asunder arguing about ‘being robbed’ or otherwise. Move on!

“There has to be more in the team,” Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody suggested when we spoke in the dressing-room after Sunday’s Cat-atomic, thunderous, heart stopping All-Ireland final draw, 2-13 (Galway) to 0-19. “To win we will have to have more. If we play the same the next day we won’t win the game.

“We are going to have to play better than we played today. The players have to look for more. They have to look for more,” he repeated.

The first All-Ireland senior hurling final draw since 1959 when Kilkenny and Waterford drew 1-17 to 5-5 (K) – Kilkenny lost the replay, 3-17 to 1-10 – certainly threw up a bundle of questions and issues that will be debated long and hard before the re-match. But the dream of that 34th All-Ireland win is still alive as far as Kilkenny are concerned.

For the record I felt Galway sub, Davy Glennon jumped into the tackle against Jackie Tyrrell with his two feet off the ground for the last free, which would have made it an offence against the Galway man. The referee read the situation differently.

He booked Tyrrell and awarded the Connacht side a free in the shadow of the Hogan Stand on the 50-metre line. Joe Canning had missed a somewhat similar effort earlier, but he arrowed the ball over the bar at the Hill 16 end this time. Draw!

Gripping matches like this always throw up incidents that get people hot under the collar and spark lots of excited debate.

On top of that late, late incident, I wondered too had Joe Canning over carried the ball before scoring Galway’s first goal in the 9th minute. However, as our television monitor in the press box had given up the ghost at that early stage I hadn’t the benefit of a viewing of the replay.

As well, there was debate about a point scored by Richie Power in the 41st minute when the umpire on the near side waved the ball wide, while his colleague doing duty on the other post ruled it a point. The linesman nearest Power apparently confirmed to the referee that the shot was good.

And of course there was wonder as to whether or not Henry Shefflin should have tried for a goal rather than taking a point from the penalty right in front of goal in the 67th minute. The score pushed Kilkenny a point in front.

Two weeks ago Kilkenny lost a big opportunity in the intermediate All-Ireland final when going for broke from a close in free late in the game against Tipperary. The effort was saved.

What a final

Shefflin made a big call and won the lead for his team. That Galway subsequently slipped the hook wasn’t his fault.

All this wonder and talk about individual incidents doesn’t matter. The sum total of back breaking effort from a spellbinding contest left nothing between the teams in the end. We will all march merrily on Croke Park again.

What a final we witnessed, though? Tactically astute Galway were the better team during the opening half, even if their opponents were guilty of some bad misses (7 wides).

The Leinster champions generally employed a two man full-forward line with different players filling the station. Their ploy of packing the midfield/half-back area coupled with the decision to bat down high ball on their ‘40’ rather than trying to catch it left them to mop up most of the breaking ball because they had the area flooded with players.

This approach left the opposition struggling to get a footing in the game, and unable to win enough possession to get their game plan going, never mind put pressure on the challengers.

The opening exchanges were tense and cagey, like a meeting of minds of two chess grandmasters, with the emphasis on not making mistakes. Galway were posing all the serious questions, however.

Kilkenny looked very uneasy, even confused by the wanderings of opposing forwards who used and guarded possession well.

On top of that, the challengers had the opposition in trouble in the centre of their defence, where Niall Burke fielded some good ball from puck-outs at centre-forward and Canning or whatever was at full-forward went walkabout apparently as they pleased, which left space to be exploited.

If was hugely impressive stuff from Galway, with Tony Og Regan, David Collins, Iarla Tannian, Niall Burke and Joe Canning their main leaders, playmakers, troublemakers, call them what you will.

The challengers led by seven points on two different occasions (1-7 to 0-3 and later 1-8 to 0-4), the latter in the 31st minute. Canning’s goal in the eight minute, executed with an assist by James Regan and after an extended run with ball in hand, put them in front for the first time (1-1 to 0-1).

From there until beyond the half hour mark they edged further and further clear, to the point where wind assisted Kilkenny looked troubled, indeed very troubled at times. It was hang on and hang in time for the champions.

Pulled back important ground

A good late run for Kilkenny pulled back important lost ground. It started in the 33rd minute when David Collins was harshly, one felt, called up for over-carrying the ball, which earned Henry Shefflin a point from a free. A burst out of defence by Brian Hogan was halted when he was fouled, and when the ball was brought forward 10 metres for dissent, Shefflin popped over another free (1-8 to 0-6).

The teams’ traded minor scores after that as Galway took a 1-9 to 0-7 lead into the break. That late spurt lifted Kilkenny spirits. The scores, the lift were badly needed.

Paul Murphy was about the only defender who looked any way at ease during this period, and to a lesser extent Jackie Tyrrell. Aidan Fogarty worked hard looking for the door into the game, but he just couldn’t find it.

Joe Canning had 1-6 in the bag, all the points from frees.

Kilkenny resumed full of intent, and crucially, with a higher tempo to their game. If they had been out-shone earlier, they were the one who dazzled this time.

Brian Hogan powered into the game. He was superb; winning the ball aggressively in the air before bursting into space to deliver it forward.

He made three powerful, inspiring high catches before the 48th, the last of which ended with a score making pass to a more involved Aidan Fogarty. Two minutes later a delivery from him ended with Henry Shefflin scoring the equalising point (1-10 to 0-13).

We weren’t to know it at the time, but the game was only warming up, especially as far as Kilkenny were concerned. They went within an ace of winning.

Tommy Walsh thundered into the game too. As the opposition retreated and packed their defence he blossomed. Henry Shefflin, in a new role at centre-forward, became the attack leader as man, and in spirit.

He proceeded to score eight points during this half. In a nutshell, he saved Kilkenny through his brilliance on frees, in open play and as creator. The Noresiders got such a powerful run going that they put six unanswered points together between the 36th and 54th minutes, a drive which put them in front (0-14 to 1-10). Now and again Galway interrupted the flow, the momentum, when players went down seeking attention for injuries. Cynical or what? You make the call.

Another big climb

Within a minute of Shefflin’s last point Kilkenny were behind again. A Galway puck-out was dropped around midfield, and the ball was drilled across the field, left to right, towards the Kilkenny 30-meter area. When two defenders got into a tangle, the ball broke kindly and towards goal for Niall Burke, who raced away unattended to shooting a fine big score (2-10 to 0-14).

The Cats faced another big climb. A pressure foul on T.J. Reid offered Shefflin an opportunity to slice the divide. He duly did so!

In the 59th minute Kilkenny’s best chance to win the game arrived. Shefflin got to the end of a clearance from defence by Jackie Tyrrell before putting Colin Fennelly clear on goal.

The latter rifled in a dipping shot. Goalie James Skehill performed the one piece of magic he was asked all afternoon….he saved. The pressure led to the concession of a free. Shefflin popped it over. Level again, this time at 2-10 to 0-16.

Pushing, probing Kilkenny twice won the lead subsequently. Twice they were called back.

The Cats edged in front for the last time with 67 minutes and 30 seconds showing on the clock when Shefflin opted to drive the penalty won for a foul on Eoin Larkin high and over the bar. Joe Canning missed a nerve testing free before he landed the questionable equalising one referred to above.

The closing chapter had us all sitting on the edge of our seats. It was fascinating stuff, and highlighted again why hurling has such a stranglehold on the imagination of the nation.

Who will have learned or taken the most from the game?

Galway head towards the replay knowing Kilkenny have failed to beat them in two attempts in the championship.

The Cats head there knowing they can play better, but they must defuse the Galway tactics to do so.


Scorers: Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (0-12, 10 frees, one penalty); Eoin Larkin, T.J. Reid (0-2 each); Richie Power, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Hogan (0-1 each). Galway - Joe Canning (1-9, eight points frees); Niall Burke (1-2); Andrew Smith, Niall Donoghue (0-1 each).

Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Kieran Joyce, Michael Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly, Richie Power, Aidan Fogarty. Sub – Matthew Ruth for C. Fennelly 62nd min.

Galway – James Skehill, Johnny Coen, Kevin Hynes, Fergal Moore, Niall Donoghue, Tony Og Regan, David Collins, Iarla Tannian, Andrew Smith, David Burke, Niall Burke, Cyril Donnellan, Damien Hayes, Joe Canning, James Regan. Subs – Conor Cooney for J. Regan 51st min; Jonathan Glynn for Cooney 60th min; Joseph Cooney for N. Burke 62nd min; Davy Glennon for D. Hayes 67th min.

Referee – Barry Kelly (Westmeath).

Attendance – 81,932.

Frees - Kilkenny 16 (8 and 8); Galway 18 (8 and 10).

Wides - Galway 13 (8 and 5); Kilkenny 8 (7 and 1).

Yellow cards - Kilkenny (J.J. Delaney 31st, T. Walsh 52nd, K. Joyce 53rd, J. Tyrrell 73rd); Galway (J. Coen 35th, F. Moore 36th, A. Smith 66th, J. Skehill 67th).