herald

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Proven quality of the Cats to trump the Tribe

So, Kilkenny and Galway return to the familiar surrounds of Croke Park for the equally familiar sight of each other.

They met twice here last summer - Kilkenny won the Leinster final battle but they also won the All-Ireland final war, revealing their unequalled ability under Brian Cody to overcome adversity on the hoof. On the restart they compressed the space and upped the physical ante; the rest is history.

That defeat told you as much about Galway's flip-flopping tendencies as it did about Kilkenny. It also kickstarted the chain of events that would ultimately lead to Anthony Cunningham being ousted from the Galway hotseat by his own disaffected panel.

His removal added massively to the pressure already on these Galway players to end their county's now 28-year famine. True, they knew what they were signing up for; and while their standing was scarcely helped by relegation in the spring, those players also knew that they would be judged by what happens at the business end of summer.

Which takes us to tomorrow's Leinster final.

Sacrifice

In one obvious respect, this is not the biggest game facing Galway this summer. Were they to lose with honour, absorb the lessons, regroup and ultimately end up with the September booty, then every sacrifice, on and off the field, would have been worth it.

Moreover, Galway fans don't need reminding about 2012 when they pulverised Kilkenny during an incredible first half en route to their only Leinster senior title ... who took home Liam MacCarthy, eventually?

The flip side is that, were Galway to meekly surrender here, it's hard to see how their battered morale and confidence could recover sufficiently to go all the way.

Their provincial form, against Westmeath and Offaly, hasn't exactly hinted at a shock-and-awe performance a la 2012. In mitigation, the weather conditions against Offaly were awful and they recovered reasonably well from giving them a five-point head start.

Mercurial

The news that Conor Cooney's frankly laughable red card has been rescinded is another major boost for Galway; he had tallied 1-3 against Offaly and Micheál Donoghue will need every available sharpshooter at his disposal if they are to topple the champions.

But will they? Galway are one of the few counties capable of reaching such heights but, in a straight contest between their mercurial qualities and Kilkenny's proven track record, you can only vote one way.

Just when you think Cody's ageing heroes are vulnerable (after that league semi-final against Clare) they crushed Dublin in a second half that reaffirmed all those trademark Kilkenny qualities: voracious workrate, intensity, ball-winning prowess, slickness of first touch and finishing to match.

Oh, and they also unleashed Jonjo Farrell for his first SHC start after a long apprenticeship ... and up he pops with 1-5 from play.

One warning caveat for Kilkenny? It's four years since they demolished Dublin in another Portlaoise semi-final ... no one foresaw the ferocious Galway ambush that lay in wait.

ODDS: Kilkenny 4/9 Draw 10/1 Galway 9/4

VERDICT: Kilkenny

Leinster SHC final: Galway v

Kilkenny (Tom 4.0, live RTÉ 1)

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