All Ireland Senior Hurling Final: Kilkenny 1-22 – 1-18 Galway

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The fly is an interesting insect, lurks around places and eavesdrops on all sorts. Oh to be one of those flies in the Kilkenny hurling dressing room at around 4.10pm today when the reigning champions who were second best in the first thirty-five minutes against a determined Galway challenge three points up and flying (excuse the pun). What was said in the Kilkenny dressing room? What did Jackie Tyrell and Michael Fennelly say to the troops to make the required impact in the second half? Those words will become words of folklore and leadership as Kilkenny were a completely different animal after the break. Their intensity and physicality in those opening ten minutes of the second half were awesome. Trailing by three points, Kilkenny strode out to a four point thanks to mercurial TJ Reid from frees and open play, Ger Aylward and Richie Hogan (clearly not fit) but chipped in with two quality scores from play. The writing was on the wall for Galway, all the more baffling for the Westerners after a barnstorming first half performance.

Galway started the final in positive fashion. Joe Canning leading the attacking with several points from frees and open play. Jason Flynn chipped in after a nervy start with some monstrous long range frees. His first free scored was nothing short of sensational. After Kilkenny scored the first goal courtesy of TJ Reid (thanks to great selfness work from Walter Walsh to dispose the ball from John Hanbury just outside the Galway square), Galway responded with points from the impressive David Burke, Jason Flynn and Cyril Donnellan who was setup by a super Callanan puck out. The Tribesman’s intensity in the backs and forward line was incredible midway through the opening half. Kilkenny were struggling to gain any tempo in their play, constantly under pressure with the ball and their forward line were struggling to gain a foothold such was the dominance of the Galway back line. Daithi Burke and Iarla Tannian in particular outstanding in dominating the aerial tussles and launching numerous attacks. Galway for their dominance were keeping Kilkenny in this contest, some horrendous shooting from good positions were damning and perhaps was a reason why Aidan Harte was taken off after twenty-two minutes. Harte’s substitution for David Collins will initiate debate all over Galway. Harte has being a standout performer for the team this year but Kilkenny were targeting his position. Eoin Murphy’s ball distribution was peppering puck outs down on the Gort clubman, albeit not being cleaned out, the threat was sufficient for Galway management to make the change. Kilkenny’s half-forward line were second best for long periods of that first half but credit where credit is due, they refused to panic and continued to probe for scoring opportunities.

The Johnny Coen incident for me personally was the turning point of this final. Prior to this incident, Galway were getting the rub of the green in terms of refereeing decisions. However, when Coen swung his hurley off Colin Fennelly (lucky not to see red) to prevent a goalscoring opportunity, James Owens started to penalize Galway more from then on.  If this was not an All Ireland hurling final, Coen would have walked and the Wexford referee knew it as well. Galway got away with one in this incident but the incident galvanized Kilkenny and potentially was something that was mentioned during the half-time Kilkenny team talk in terms of upping the physicality. For all Galway’s hurling and endeavour, they were only three points up. Everyone knew that Kilkenny would come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders in the second half. Galway’s management and players obviously did not read the memo.

All Ireland Hurling finals are defined on periods of pressure and dominance. The lesson this weekend has being that teams who have superiority need to hammer home their advantage, kill off the opposition. Unfortunately, both Western counties at Croke Park this weekend (Galway and Mayo) were guilty of this key point. Galway instead of driving on in the second half suddenly became ultra defensive. Cathal Mannion who had a quiet afternoon caused more problems for Galway by coming more deeper for the ball. Galway’s distribution in the first ten minutes of the second half will haunt the team this winter, aimless high ball into the Kilkenny back line who devour this type of ball. Galway movement and support for the player with the sliothar was non-existent. No heads up composure to pick out a Galway player in space, it was all frantic. Holden and Prendergast were now growing in confidence and the imperious Paul Murphy was dominating. Kilkenny’s half-back line drove the team forward and set the platform for victory. Buckley and Walsh chipped in with long range scores from play and it emphasized the dominance enjoyed by Kilkenny in the second half. Joyce’s command of the middle meant that Galway had precious little ball coming into the full forward line, cue disaster. Galway looked out of gas, on the canvas and Kilkenny sensing blood went for the kill and strode out to a seven point lead with ten minutes left. All the Kilkenny forward line were now joining the party. Walter Walsh, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly scoring points to open the gap further. Kilkenny’s composure to spot a colleague in a better position was admirable in a red hot atmosphere. Richie Hogan’s vision despite hampered with a quad injury was a joy to watch. Galway had no-one in their forward line who could setup scores in this fashion.  In addition, Galway’s decision not to utilise the flanks to open up Kilkenny defensively played into Cody’s game plan. Kilkenny will not be beaten in the physicality stakes, the decision to play Kilkenny down the middle of the park throughout with no varied game plan was a key factor to why Galway lost this final today.

Forget the Joe Canning’s late goal, it was just mere consolation. The All Ireland hurling final was over as a contest with fifteen minutes left. It brought down the curtain to a hurling championship which on reflection did not reach the heights expected. Numerous one sided contests. The only cliff hanger game was Galway’s memorable one point win against Tipperary in the All Ireland semi-final. Several teams who promised much (Limerick, Dublin, Cork, Clare) offered very little when push came to shove. Kilkenny win another championship and you wonder where the challenge is going to come from the chasing pack next season. Galway gave as good as they got in two matches against Kilkenny this year in the championship but fell short of upsetting the odds today. The Galway full back line played heroically. It was the sheer work rate and physicality of Kilkenny which was the ultimate trump card.

Galway can look back on the season with a quiet satisfaction. They are back as a top hurling contender once again. Their underage success (minor’s emphatic win in the curtain raiser) and Intermediate team success a couple of weeks ago bodes well for the future. Galway management will look to add more quality to the panel, increase competition in all positions will only improve their performances in finals such as today. Galway have unearthed several young exciting players. The Mannion brothers, Jason Flynn, Johnny Glynn are now household names in hurling. Consistency is now the key for Galway. How to replicate performances as seen against Cork and Tipperary in the championship game in game out is now the question to be answered? They need to get back to the final next season, right the wrong and their consistency will need to improve for this to happen. Galway had several star performers this year. Colm Callanan, Daithi Burke, Iarla Tannian, Aidan Harte, David Burke, Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn, Johnny Glynn, Joe Canning have had good seasons and the majority should see All Star honors at the end of the year.

As Joey Holden accepted the Liam McCarthy Cup on behalf of Kilkenny, Brian Cody was beaming from ear to ear. This success has to be ranked high in his resume. Numerous key retirements in the off season meant that Kilkenny were seen as being extremely vulnerable this season. The full back position was an area perceived as weak but Joey Holden stood up to all that was thrown at him. Shane Prendergast and Ger Aylward were integrated into the side and the side did not skip a beat. Kilkenny’s hunger and appetite for success is unerring. It is a case study for any sporting or business organization to strive for — the fear of defeat strikes this group of men on year after year. Hurling is a religion in Kilkenny and the sight of Richie Power (a player plagued with injury) who came for a vital substitute appearance pucking a ball around with his son after the final whistle on the hallow Croke Park turf spoke volumes. Hurling is a way of life in Kilkenny and touches every part of life in the county. Hurling as a sport. Hurling as a social outlet, Hurling as a standard bearer for accomplishment. Hurling is Kilkenny. Take a bow Kilkenny, the masters of triumph. There will be one hell of a party down in Langton’s Hotel tomorrow night and for the rest of the year.

I hate to say it but my preview prediction was spot on yesterday. Gloomy morning in Galway beckons on Monday morning. https://hawkeyesidekick.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/all-ireland-senior-hurling-final-2015-preview/