Tribes shaken and stirred up
Leinster SH Final: Galway v Kilkenny (Thurles, Tomorrow 3.0, Live RTÉ 1)
Having spent 29 years in pursuit of a trophy that teased and tormented them, having suffered so much recent pain in the company of Cats, perhaps Galway should have been the least surprised by what actually transpired in Croke Park last Sunday.
The trophy on offer was not Liam MacCarthy, rather the Bob O'Keeffe Cup, but this was a significant hurdle on the way to its hoped-for retention.
And while Galway didn't fall, they did falter - especially in the first half and again at the climax, surrendering a three-point cushion that should have been enough in such a nip-and-tuck contest.
It wasn't. And maybe now we can reappraise some of the overly exultant talk about Galway cruising through Leinster, about Galway being red-hot favourites for an All-Ireland two-in-a-row, about a definitive shift in the balance of power between these two very familiar foes.
By the same token, surely it's high time that this new and evolving Kilkenny team should be seen for what it is. Not as fearsome as what went before, perhaps ... but league champions for a reason; far better than their earlier eight-point loss in Salthill suggested; and genuine All-Ireland challengers in the here-and-now.
Brian Cody hasn't gone away, you know ...
Last Sunday's stalemate was no classic (too many poor wides, not enough forward fluidity, a paucity of clear-cut goal chances) but it was heavyweight championship hurling all the same, crowned by an injury-time equaliser of beauty from who else but TJ Reid.
Cork peppered the Clare posts once they got motoring in the earlier Munster final; but would their forwards have enjoyed remotely as much time, space and opportunity if they had been faced by Padraig Walsh and his high-fielding comrades; or if they had Dáithi Burke et al for suffocating company?
We doubt it.
The intensity of battle, the claustrophobic nature of the exchanges, was palpable last Sunday. Likewise the dominance enjoyed, for the most part, by both defences, who plucked missile after missile from the air.
As ever, what happens next will be predicated largely on how both teams, and their managements, adapt to the lessons of day one.
In many respects, there was so little between them. Level on the scoreboard ten times. Similarity in the wide count, albeit Kilkenny's first-half wastefulness was replicated by Galway after the break.
Yet there were differences too. Curiously, all of Galway's starting front six scored and their shared 0-13 from play eclipsed the 0-6 tallied by Kilkenny's front six.
And yet you couldn't escape the impression that Galway's attack never really got into its prolific stride. Conor Cooney has rarely been so peripheral; Joe Canning dazzled only in flashes.
Perhaps this is partly because the All-Ireland champions allowed themselves to get dragged into an arm-wrestle and didn't vary their delivery enough: by our count Kilkenny won almost two-thirds of James Skehill's puckouts.
Doubtless, Galway's forwards can expect more of the same from Walsh, Paul Murphy and Cillian Buckley, while the younger members of this Kilkenny team are sure to derive huge confidence from the knowledge that they can go toe to toe with the champions.
It remains to be seen whether the switch of locations - from Croker to Thurles - will alter the dynamic.
Our own suspicion is that while Kilkenny will come on, Galway have even more scope for improvement. Last Sunday may have been just the bone-shuddering rattle they needed to shed any sense of presumption.
Odds: Galway 4/9 Draw 8/1 Kilkenny 5/2