Back to basics works for merciless Kilkenny

Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11
A tour-de-force by Kilkenny in this replayed All-Ireland senior hurling final in Croke Park yesterday, their 34th title, extending their lead over Cork to four.

A tour-de-force also by their talisman Henry Shefflin, now gone out on his own with nine medals won on the field of play. On this evidence, who’s to say it won’t become 10?

Such a different game to the drawn match just three weeks ago, in so many aspects. On that occasion Kilkenny did what Kilkenny under Brian Cody just don’t do: they played a game dictated by the opposition.

Their corner-backs and wing-backs had all switched positions, following their designated opponents; a natural predatory inside-forward, Richie Hogan played in midfield; their two most effective wing-forwards, TJ Reid and Eoin Larkin, had been in the inside line. Biggest mistake of all, their forward maestro Henry Shefflin had been buried in the corner.

Yesterday the starting line-up was back to the old, familiar Kilkenny. And so too was the display.

A poor start cost them dearly in their Leinster final loss to Galway, nearly cost them even more dearly in the drawn All-Ireland final — it wasn’t going to happen for the third time in one season.

Paul Murphy (what a display again!) and Jackie Tyrrell were restored to the corners, Tommy Walsh and Kieran Joyce on the wings, a more natural Cillian Buckley partnering Michael Fennelly in midfield, Larkin and Reid the wing-forwards, Richie Hogan on the edge of the square and Henry on the 40, the maestro with the baton.

For all the talk of players being more versatile these days, able to play in every position, this wasn’t just Kilkenny more familiar, this was Kilkenny more comfortable. How they prospered.

After 12 minutes they led by two, 0-3 to 0-1, which was as much as they had managed to score in the opening 30 minutes of their two previous meetings with Galway combined. One thing Galway have been able to do against Kilkenny this year however is score goals; they got two in a minute yesterday, David Burke the man on the end of them on each occasion. First he deflected a long Iarla Tannian delivery (16m), then finished a lovely Cyril Donnellan/Damien Hayes combo after another long ball from Joe Canning, 60 seconds later. And in an eye-blink the game was turned on its head, Galway leading 2-2 to 0-5.

Just as suddenly, however, it was back again. While Galway were celebrating their first goal, David Herity had hit a quick puckout for Kilkenny, TJ Reid was on the end of it and Kilkenny had a point. Now again the Cats had a quick response but this time it was more lethal, Eoin Larkin in on goal, James Skehill parries the shot, Richie Power buries the rebound.

Game tied (1-5 to 2-2) by the 19th minute and Kilkenny broke out the champagne. Six points from five different scorers in five blistering minutes, this was hurling at a level Galway simply couldn’t match. Larkin after a hook by Richie Hogan on too slow-swinging Iarla Tannian; Richie Power after intercepting a pass to too slow-moving Tony Óg Regan; a Shefflin free; Walter Walsh drifting unmarked to the opposite corner and spotted by Henry; Henry himself from play and some distance; Richie Hogan pouncing on a break. Kilkenny at their lethal best, a level above where they’d been in the draw, and Galway were gasping for oxygen.

Two points from Joe Canning (a free and a 65) gave them hope heading for the dressing room (1-11 to 2-4), but the signs were ominous.

On the resumption it was Kilkenny again looking sharp, points from Richie Hogan and Henry (65), against one from Andy Smith, extending their lead. Then came probably Galway’s best period of the game, though — contradictorily — it would transpire to be their worst.

In the 45th minute Damien Hayes won a ball on the 20m line, was fouled, whistle blown by referee James McGrath; in the noise and excitement no-one heard, play continued, Hayes passed to Cyril Donnellan who ‘goaled’ — called back for the free which was duly pointed by Joe Canning.

A minute later a pointed Canning sideline special and to huge roars from the packed stands Galway were now within a goal, 1-13 to 2-7. Just another two minutes on and it looked like they had that goal, a Canning rocket cannoning back off the butt of the upright, David Herity beaten all ends up — the ball was cleared, Henry won possession and showing great strength and vision, parted to Cillian Buckley who pointed for Kilkenny.

That wasn’t the end of the bad news for Galway, however. In the very next attack Cyril Donnellan was spotted by linesman Barry Kelly striking JJ Delaney with a wild backhand hurley swing — straight red card.

From that, no way back for Galway. Subs Colin Fennelly and Jonny Glynn (a beauty!) swapped goals, Joe Canning had a couple of superb points for Galway, but it was Kilkenny coasting home, magnificent champions yet again.

Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-9 (5f, 2 65s); W Walsh 1-3; R Power 1-2; C Fennelly 1-0; R Hogan 0-3; K Joyce (f), C Buckley, M Fennelly, E Larkin, TJ Reid, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Galway: J Canning 0-9 (5f 1 s/l); D Burke 2-0; J Glynn 1-0; T Og Regan, A Smith, 0-1 each.

Subs for Kilkenny: C Fennelly (W Walsh 59); N Hickey (Joyce 65); A Fogarty (Reid inj. 66). Blood sub: N Hickey (Delaney 49/62)

Subs: for Galway J Cooney (Donoghue 28); J Glynn (Regan 34); F Flannery (Skehill inj. 35); C Cooney (N Burke 53); D Glennon (Smith 64).

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)