Galway needed to be in touch as the game entered the crucial last ten minutes but they faded badly when they needed to kick on, having impressed when leading by three points at half-time.
I looked at the match clock 30 minutes into the second half and, at that stage, The Tribe had only added three points to their half time tally.
Only one forward, young Conor Whelan, had scored from play while the other two came from replacement half back, David Collins.
Meanwhile Kilkenny had tacked on 11 points, making a strong push for victory. Kilkenny’s half forward line dropped deep into midfield in the second-half and it was noticeable centre-forward Richie Hogan was playing almost as a third midfielder.
Both wing forwards, Walter Walsh and TJ Reid, dropped back almost to their own half back line for puckouts, as Kilkenny have been doing for years The Galway half backs made the mistake of following their direct opponents with Colm Callanan striking long puckouts when a different strategy was needed.
This meant space was available in front of the Kilkenny full-forward line when the Cats gained possession whereas any channels needed by the Galway attack were clogged up by extra bodies as the Cats reverted to their tried and trusted system. The Galway forwards pulled their markers out of position in the first-half, creating scoring chances, but it was Kilkenny who prospered with this tactic in the second-half and their overall experience saw them home.
At times in the first-half Kilkenny looked a little rattled but TJ Reid, my Man of the Match and Hurler of the Year, goaled in the first quarter. It kept Kilkenny in touch as Galway had taken the game to the champions with a fierce intensity. The Cats’ defence looked far from comfortable as the fast Galway forwards kept switching positions and tackled with an intensity that is usually reserved for Kilkenny themselves.
It was clear the Westerners had taken a leaf out of the Kilkenny play book as they used the free hand to pressurise opponents. In one instance Eoin Larkin, almost back in his half back line, was bottled up, clearly held, but was penalised for over-carrying. Galway needed to bring this intensity to their second- half display but under increased pressure from a resurgent Kilkenny their pace dropped and they paid the ultimate price.
Jason Flynn, impressive at half forward in the first-half, played a more static left corner forward role after half time and the rising Kilkenny tide swept them away.
Mistakes crept into their play - mistakes absent in the first-half. It’s the small things that make the difference at this level and mistakes can sap morale. Galway full-back John Hanbury made a great defensive play on Colin Fennelly a few minutes into the second-half but hit a long hasty delivery straight over the sideline with better options available. Dáithí Burke fouled Ger Aylward after some sloppy play by other backs put him in a poor position and within eight minutes of the restart Kilkenny were level.
Two points down, Galway’s Andy Smith lost the ball over the sideline as Galway made a surge forward. Joe Canning missed a fairly easy free with three points between the teams. Conor Whelan elected to shoot for goal when the best that was on offer was a point. David Collins, who had played well, was naive in possession and was turned over for a Colin Fennelly point.
Greg Lally and Conor Cooney, both replacements, hit long range wides when they needed to build pressure on the Kilkenny defence. Galway were not out of the game until the 65th minute when they were behind by five but the little mistakes had added up.Kilkenny no longer have the scoring power to blow opponents away, but they are masters at exploiting the little imperfections that show up from their pressure building displays.
Another thoroughly satisfying professional performance for Brian Cody and his management team who continuously set the bar higher. Another few players bedded in this year. They are hot fancies for the three in a row.
Kilkenny also had the luxury of springing Richie Power off the bench to keep the pressure on and he provided the passes for their last two points. The scoring difference between them in the Leinster final was seven points.The difference yesterday was four. Kilkenny had exactly the same scoreline, 1-22, while Galway had the same points tally. Kilkenny had 52% possession and had only five wides to Galway’s nine, converting 23 scores from 31 shots while Galway converted 19 from 35.
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