Tuesday 21 November 2017

Suffocating Cats put squeeze on Galway

Kilkenny banish first half blues and you can guess the rest as Cody lands 11th All-Ireland

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody celebrates after yesterday’s All-Ireland SHC final victory over Galway
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody celebrates after yesterday’s All-Ireland SHC final victory over Galway

The more things change, the more they stay the same. For 35 tantalising minutes, Galway had dared to dream that 27 years in the All-Ireland wilderness were coming to an end.

Less than an hour later, Brian Cody was doing his best Alex Ferguson impression with a touchline jig and Liam MacCarthy was going back to Kilkenny.

Or, rather, staying put.

Next September, maybe they might even eschew the diplomatic niceties of bringing the cup to Dublin and instead keep it under Nowlan Park lock and key.

Croke Park, a full house barely minutes beforehand, was already half-deserted by the time Joey Holden lifted that familiar chalice.

For this you can't blame Kilkenny: they had come to do a job and executed it to second half perfection. What happened before - Galway leading 0-14 to 1-8 at midway - may as well have been a footnote on another day of suffocating Kilkenny supremacy.

And that's the very word for it: suffocating. That second half was like a rerun of last year's All-Ireland final replay against Tipperary. Different year, new opponent, same outcome.

They won the second half by 0-14 to 1-4. The timing of Joe Canning's goalscoring riposte, from a 20m free in stoppage time, says all you need to know.

It was all more than sufficient to deliver a record 36th All-Ireland senior hurling title, a staggering 11 of which have come on Cody's watch. Ponder on that for a moment: it took Kilkenny over a century to win their first 25 and they've added almost half as many again in just 17 seasons.

When will it end? Cody only knows. Moreover, given he has just retired from his job as a primary school principal, the chances of calling time on his 'other' job appear more remote than ever.

And yet for those aforementioned 35 minutes, the prospect of a thrilling ambush loomed large. Anthony Cunningham's Galway - fresh from beating the two other members of the Big Three, Cork and Tipperary - brought momentum, youthful exuberance, prolific potential and serious physicality to the Croke Park stage.

When the Galway minors delivered the first half of a hoped-for double, it served as another shot of adrenaline.

So it transpired - initially. Joe Canning opened like a man who has waited too long for that Celtic Cross and who planned to take ownership of this final, landing Galway's first three points, a free followed by a brace from play.


The challengers led by 0-5 to 0-3 after 12 minutes and even the concession of a goal, 30 seconds later, didn't deflate for too long.

Not surprisingly, that bullet came from the stick of Hurler of the Year-elect TJ Reid, but the Galway post-mortems will reflect on how the otherwise rock-solid John Hanbury was in the right position to deal with the danger only to be hustled out of possession by Walter Walsh. One selfless offload later, Reid was saying thanks for the gift.

Soon after, TJ doubled their lead from a free but that was as good as it got for Kilkenny until half-time. Galway would score seven of the next eight points, an accurate reflection of their surging confidence and dominance in most quarters.

Jason Flynn punished them via a hat-trick of monster frees from inside his own half. The second of those - awarded after the otherwise excellent Eoin Larkin was punished for a debatable over-carry, his second in a matter of minutes - prompted the Kilkenny manager to vent his fury in the direction of the fourth official.

The game was not going to Cody's script. The Galway half-backs were turning the screw on Eoin Murphy's puckouts, winning five on the spin at one stage. Several Kilkenny backs were also getting isolated one-on-one, notably Shane Prendergast on the livewire Conor Whelan.

And then half-time came and Galway, for all their hurling, only led by three points.

What followed wasn't merely another half; it was another game entirely.

Was the transformation down to Kilkenny upping the intensity or Galway losing their way? The answer lies somewhere in between; what's beyond dispute is that gradually, inexorably, Kilkenny ramped up the tackle count, the hooking and blocking, and ensured that the final would now be played on their terms.


The Tribesmen needed to push on in the third quarter; instead the holders drew level inside eight minutes without having to muster much in the way of inspiration.

Even though sub David Collins pointed from halfway to restore Galway's lead on 45 minutes, it lasted just seconds: Richie Hogan (whose preparation and probably performance were affected by a quad injury) pointed straight from the next puckout. Then Reid nailed a '65' to establish a 47th minute lead that Kilkenny would never relinquish.

As the half moved to its increasingly inevitable conclusion, Galway's over-wrought defence and midfield were reduced to a series of hopeful and even hopeless deliveries straight down the middle. One of these punts landed in the general vicinity of Cyril Donnellan - surrounded by four defenders.

Canning, so prominent in the first half, became peripheral to the point of anonymity. This had echoes of the drawn All-Ireland of 2012: Galway needed more from their talisman, albeit he was scarcely helped by a total malfunction of the supply lines.

Whelan, just out of minor, was a rare font of forward energy but otherwise the wheels had come off Galway's All-Ireland train. David Burke battled heroically but even he couldn't eclipse the midfield man mountain that was Michael Fennelly.

More than any other player, he epitomised Kilkenny's transformation into ... well, the Kilkenny of old. Another two-in-a-row: not half bad for a team in transition.

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