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Galway in a catch 22

MAYBE it was just the prospect of a new narrative emerging in what has become a predictable if brilliantly compelling storyline.

But to everyone who succumbed to the fanciful notion that Dublin would beat Kilkenny in Portlaoise a couple of weeks ago ... how foolish to we all feel now?

And as the great George Dubya once mused: "Fool me once ... "

Predicting hurling matches involving Kilkenny has become a pretty simple affair, so why complicate it?

What is the likelihood that anybody will beat Kilkenny in the near future, never mind this year?

Most recent evidence doesn't bode well for Galway tomorrow.

True, the county is the last-but-two side to topple the Cats in Championship hurling but that was seven years ago and Cody's men have been imperious ever since.

Tipperary might well be the model, but trying to replicate what they did in 2010 is far, far easier said than done. Firstly, that team had the perfect blend of in-form veterans and outstanding youth.

Secondly, they had a system and a management that were three years pruning and perfecting each and every aspect of their play -- a continuity which they lacked last year and were thus exposed.


The other thing about Kilkenny is that with each defeat, Cody has learned his lesson and tweaked the formula.

When his half-back line were pulled and dragged hither and thither by Wexford in 2004 (still their last defeat in Leinster), he resolved to develop a system whereby his centre-back never strays from that central channel right in front of his full-back.

After '05 and Galway's goal-fest, the levels of physicality with which they defended their goal and hit high up the pitch was taken to a new level.

And following defeat in 2010 by Tipp, Cody put new emphasis on a deep-lying half-back line, holding their stations, aided and abetted by a much more defensively alert midfield and two wing-forwards to mark the movement in between his numbers five, six and seven.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Kilkenny is that their evolution into the most defensively sound outfit in hurling has in no way affected their scoring tally.

Blessed with forwards who can fight and win ball, they utilise the break better than anyone. Take, for example, the first goal against Dublin, a score which epitomised their ruthlessness, movement, unselfishness and awareness in a flash.

The other incredible thing about Kilkenny this year is that even in the absence of some influential players, the collective remains granite.

Paddy Hogan, for instance, isn't exactly a novice but the perception of a 'fringe player' making up the numbers in training has been exploded this year.

Along with youngster Cillian Buckley, they bossed the middle against Dublin in a calm, Kilkenny sort of way, albeit without providing the forward drive that Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice do when operating in tandem.

Richie Doyle, too, is beginning to look a lot like JJ Delaney at wing-back, which is just as well because JJ's immense talents have been required further back and he was immaculate at number three in Portlaoise.

Against that, the most impressive thing about Galway in their win over Offaly was the movement of their forwards, akin to that of Tipperary in their pomp; ghosting into space, confusing would-be markers and displaying vision and clinical finishing whenever the sniff of a goal arose.

But space isn't something the Cats defence generally allows, both in its configuration and collective cunning so chances are, only something special from someone special like Joe Canning or Damien Hayes is going to open up any significant chance.

Canning himself showed plenty of smarts and leadership against Offaly but he'll need to be slightly more selfish tomorrow if Galway are to have any chance.

And, on the subject, do they have any chance?

Well, Kilkenny don't take teams for granted. They're never 'caught on the hop'. They won't be outmuscled and they won't give up soft goals.


Galway, on the other hand, have conceded seven goals in two Championship matches and if the four they shipped to Westmeath can be largely attributed to carelessness, the three they gave up to Offaly were major warning signs for Anthony Cunningham.

Cunningham has done a fine job in his limited time to bring organisation and a new tactical astuteness to Galway but it would be unheard of for a team in the first year of their cycle to take on the big Cats, withstand all they have to give and come out on the right side of a scoreline.

Anthony Cunningham's Galway won't go the way of Dublin ... of that much we're fairly certain.

But what we're completely and utterly sure of is that from now until some time in the very distant future, every preview involving Kilkenny will conclude with the same verdict.

KILKENNY: D Herity; P Murphy, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, R Doyle; C Buckley, P Hogan; H Shefflin, TJ Reid, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Power, R Hogan.

GALWAY: J Skehill; D Collins, K Hynes, F Moore; N Donoghue, T óg Regan, J Coen; I Tannian, A Smyth; D Burke, N Burke, C Donnellan; C Cooney, J Canning, D Hayes.

ODDS: Kilkenny 1/6, Draw 14/1, Galway 5/1 VERDICT: Kilkenny