Cats roar out a message of defiance in drawn Leinster final

Ashling Dalton

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Ashling Dalton

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Cats roar out a message of defiance in drawn Leinster final

Goalie Eoin Murphy scored for Kilkenny again - shooting their first point

An old tale that circulated about the Kilkenny senior hurlers during the noughties was that after every Leinster final win, kit man Denis ‘Rackard’ Cody would put the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in the back of his van and it wouldn’t be seen again.
This is merely myth, and really only gained legs due to Kilkenny’s domination of the provincial competition.
Manager Brian Cody and his teams have always had great respect for the Leinster championship.
Not only was it the gateway to inclusion in the All-Ireland series, it provided a valuable piece of silverware, the winning of which set up the victors for the steep championship climb that lay ahead.
That attitude has not changed in 2018 for Kilkenny, transition or not.
The Noresiders were always going to make a big play for the chance to run on to the Croke Park pitch in mid-Summer.
You may have heard the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ chant in recent weeks, but for Kilkenny the cry was Croke Park or nowhere.
Sunday was genuine Kilkenny - performing big on the big stage.
Not many get a chance of a second crack at the All-Ireland champions (Galway) so early in the summer, but Kilkenny can enjoy the luxury.
David Burke, the Galway midfielder, caused a bit of a stir in Kilkenny circles when he claimed the Cats feared Galway a little bit.
It is hard to imagine a Kilkenny player shrinking in the shadow of any opposing jersey.
Manager Brian Cody just wouldn’t allow it. If you didn’t face up to a challenge, you wouldn’t be asked a second time.
You respect the opposition, but you still harbour the belief that you can beat them on any given day.
Burke’s comment was always going to catch the eye of Kilkenny supporters, but it remained to be seen how Kilkenny, the team, would respond.
The possible make-up of the Leinster final team would have been a source of much discussion throughout the county in recent weeks.
Who would fill the full back role? Would Padraig Walsh be deployed out the field?
Would the elder statesmen of Hogan and Fennelly be called upon, or would management hand Leinster final debuts to young fledglings?
The centre-back and centre-forward positions would be the most pivotal. Obviously, Cillian Buckley has been doing a fine job in the No. 6 jersey, playing a captain’s role when needed and shoring up the defence.
He would need to be at his best to keep Joe Canning quiet on Sunday afternoon.
Many pundits had identified Galway’s half back line as their strongest asset, and suggested if you upset their rhythm you disrupt their whole system.
If Kilkenny wanted to best Galway, they needed to play smart hurling. They needed to disrupt Galway’s rhythm.
Sow the seed of doubt in their minds.
It might not be enough to win, but it would be the first time Galway would have been challenged in that way this year. They would not want any major flaws being signposted before the buisness end of the championship commences.
That was the general thinking.
And so all eyes were on the team announced on Friday.
It was unlikely there would be many late changes like we saw before the Kilkenny and Wexford game. Neither Brian Cody nor Galway’s Michael Donohue like to engage in mind games.
The team that Brian Cody named included a surprise on the full forward line. Graigue-Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan was to make his senior debut.
Typical of Brian Cody, the young star was obviously going well in training, and he was given the chance to shine.
Ger Aylward also bagged a place on the other side of the attack.
After watching Cork and Clare battle it out beforehand in an open, high scoring Munster final we were wondering what kind of match we would get in Croke Park.
Given the recent history between Kilkenny and Galway, the battles have been highly defensive. The first half of Sunday’s game continued the trend.
Galway’s Conor Whelan scored the first point. A lot of black and amber eyes were on Billy Ryan to see how he would cope. Straight off he was working hard and chasing down Galway defenders.
Goalie Eoin Murphy grabbed Kilkenny’s first point from a free.
The most notable thing about the opening 15 minutes of play was that Kilkenny were really putting Galway under pressure.
This was typical Cody school of hurling stuff. Whenever a Galway player got the ball there was a swarm of Kilkenny jerseys snapping at him.
To top that, you can imagine how happy this writer was to see Kilkenny players passing the ball onto their colleagues who were running from deep. It has been a topic of many articles these past few weeks!
Cathal Mannion and Niall Burke pointed for Galway but it has to be said that the opening half exchanges suggested there could be stalemate.
Neither team was able to get a clear shot at goal when the few chances arose, and possession was often turned over .
In Kilkenny’s case, their back six looked extremely assured and in sync.
They needed to be against the most physically challenging forward lines in the country.
Special mention has to be made of Padraig Walsh, who operated in his usual position at full back. He caught some fantastic ball over the head of his towering opponeent.
He really kept the nerve and played whenever the ball was pucked in on top of him.
The second half did not open up as much as some spectators would have hoped, but it was equally gripping and as thrilling as the opening half.
Galway tried in vain to take off, and take control of the game. Kilkenny kept hanging in.
T.J. Reid scored a vital free at the 45th minute mark after Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan had nudged Galway in front.
Due to the serious effort Kilkenny had put in during the game, their bench was always going to be important.
They really brought out the cavalry in the shape of Richie Hogan, Liam Blanchfield, Colin Fennelly and John Donnelly. What players to have to call upon!
John Donnelly, in particular, stood out and tacked on a very good point to give Kilkenny a lift heading into the home stretch.
Kilkenny scored the closing three scores of the game. That was powerful going against the All-Ireland champions.
To sum it all up, had Kilkenny not made a few silly mistakes, they could have won on Sunday.
They tested Galway more than any other team has this year. And Brian Cody will insist Galway will get an even sterner test this Sunday.
The temperature in this championship has soared even higher!

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