Luke Scanlon threats the Galway goal in the Leinster championship clash in Salthill
Forget everything you’ve seen over the last two months. Yes, even that emphatic National Hurling League final win against the old rivals.
And yes, even the most recent championship games we have seen Kilkenny play.
Why? Well, on Sunday, May 27 Kilkenny packed the old reliable J.J. Kavanagh bus and headed into the West. To face Galway - the same Galway currently in possession of a certain friend of ours, Liam MacCarthy. This was regarded as Kilkenny’s most demanding examination to date.
It was also a step into the unknown. Galway are currently residing in Division 1B in the National League. They have not played any of the top teams this year, including Kilkenny.
So, in truth, we really had no clue what to expect from the Tribesmen. There were pressing questions hanging over their heads.
Was the hunger still there? Did they find any new young players during the League? Is their panel prepared for the hard fought campaign that will be required to retain the title?
You known the story, the hurling talk - it is hard to win the All Ireland, but it is even harder to retain it!
Galway gave an emphatic response, to all questions.
Credit where it is due, their manager Micheál Donoghue has taken the right approach so far in 2018 with his players. He has kept them out of the spotlight that can distract champions.
While Galway didn’t set the League alight, they were still within a whisker of getting back into the top division. They were pipped at the finish line by Limerick.
In summary, Galway were competitive. They would have plenty in the tank come championship time. Now it was time to get down to business.
Donoghue knew they needed to finished at the top of the table in Leinster to stay on course for another tilt at the All-Ireland. Kilkenny was a huge test for them. They were ready. And then some!
So why should we forget about the last two games, you ask?
It’s simple. Brian Cody and Kilkenny already have. All they were thinking about before Sunday was Galway.
The game had probably been singled out as giving a strong indicator of how the season would pan out. A good performance would prove to Kilkenny that if they could mix it with the All-Ireland champions, they could mix it with anyone.
The high volume of games was taking its toll on the panel, but hope was high that Cody would have a full deck to choose for the visit West. Richie Hogan was on the way back, and won a place on the bench.
Kilkenny picked a strong team for the Salthill test. Enda Morrissey was called in to replace Joey Holden, while James Maher and Walter Walsh came back in after shaking off injuries.
It was a team people felt could challenge Galway.
The champions fielded 12 of the team that won the All-Ireland final last year.
Kilkenny won the toss and opted to play against the wind. It was evident straight away that Galway benefited from that.
James Skehill’s puck-outs were travelling as far as the Kilkenny full back line. It was a rip-roaring start too. Kilkenny went for the jugular; Luke Scanlon spotting an opening in Galway’s defence. He was fouled and Kilkenny got their first score from a T.J. Reid free.
As expected, the game was physically demanding. The atmosphere was tense, and both teams looked to be eyeing each other up for a long time.
Joe Canning opened Galway’s account with a pointed free. It was stalemate on the terraces and in the stand during the first half. Supporters were really cagey and were reluctant to make a lot of noise for their teams.
However, what the occasion lacked in noise, it made up for in drama. First of all, Galway had a goal disallowed because a player was in the square.
That was not be the first incident of that nature in the game. More about that anon.
Even early on, the physical dominance of Galway was very evident. Kilkenny really struggled to get the ball past the oppositions half back line.
Walter Walsh and Luke Scanlon were the players that caused the most trouble when they got the chance. The other forwards struggled.
There were two penalties awarded in the first half, the first to Galway. Joe Canning blasted past goalie Eoin Murphy.
A few minutes later Kilkenny were awarded a penalty. T.J. Reid converted.
T.J’s score was crucial because Galway had hit 1-5 without reply before it. Kilkenny had failed to score for 10 minutes.
It was the nudge they needed to put in a late spurt. While Galway were dominant, the half time score (1-9 to 1-5) actually flattered the visitors but left the chances of them winning a possibility.
Then a touch of harsh reality. Galway took over, completely. They kicked on, and bossed every position of the field.
Now, they did get the rub of the green when Walter Walsh had a goal disallowed because his colleague dropped the hurley when making the pass to Walter.
Credit where it’s due. Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and their colleagues really showcased the swagger that comes with winning All-Irelands.
Kilkenny can have no excuses. The defeat, and the manner of it, highlights concerns that will have management thinking over the next couple of weeks.
The main worry was that other than Kilkenny’s late second goal scored in the 74th minute by Walter Walsh, they failed to register a point from play.
T.J. Reid did convert frees, but that is a damning statistic and the failing could cost the Cats a place in the Leinster final.
Brian Cody and his sideline team will have to find a way to get the forwards more into the game. Perhaps that could start with the puck-outs.
A lot of the time goalie Eoin Murphy chooses to hit the ball long down on top of the forwards. A lot of it was gobbled up by the towering Galway defence.
If the ball was worked through the lines and into the paths of running forwards, maybe it would allow Kilkenny to create more openings and chances.
No matter what way you look at it, the final round robin game against Wexford on Saturday week in Nowlan Park is a must win match for Kilkenny.
The temperature and takes are getting higher!
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