ONE thing Galway can’t complain about going into this Leinster final is a lack of games – in fact they have more big matches played than Kilkenny, three to one.
Mind you, I can’t ever say I ever heard any complaints from Galway when they were getting through to an All-Ireland final after playing just one game – all the complaints in those days came from outside Galway.
It was only when Galway were failing again and again under the new qualifier system that they started looking for participation in Leinster – well, now they have it. There’s one thing that puzzles me though – why is it only at senior level? Why doesn’t the same logic apply at minor and U21 level? Doesn’t make sense to me.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered by this Galway team. For instance, why did it take two games to put Offaly away? Was it because Offaly were so good, or was it because Galway were so poor? I think myself it was the former – Offaly were indeed good, could have won either one of those two games, and it wouldn’t have been an injustice either. Galway did make major changes to their line-up for the replay against Offaly, and it worked, they dominated the first half. Offaly then counteracted those moves at half-time, and it took Galway a long time to react to that again – not good. The question now, will Galway stay with that same starting line-up, or will they change again to try to match up better to Kilkenny? Personally I think they’ll change; what worked against Offaly in the replay won’t necessarily work against Kilkenny, especially now that they’ve seen it.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Damien Hayes going to the half-forward line again, where he did so much damage in earlier rounds, with Joe Canning reverting to full-forward. I also expect to see David Collins back in the Galway line-up, possibly in midfield, a direct replacement for David Burke, red-carded against Offaly in the replay, or will Eoin Lynch from Portumna get a start in midfield, his natural position, with Collins going to wing-back in place of John Lee, who still doesn’t look fully fit?
At the time of writing I don’t know, and neither do Kilkenny, John McIntyre is keeping his cards close to his chest until the last minute.
I’m also writing this before Kilkenny’s team was named last night so I’m not aware of who Brian Cody will play? Will loyalty to the old guard be a factor, will Noel Hickey be at full-back, John Tennyson in defence, Cha Fitzpatrick in midfield, Eoin Larkin and Aidan Fogarty in the attack? These are all players who have done it so often for this Kilkenny team. Remember, the only one of those to start against Dublin was Noel Hickey, though Larkin and Fogarty did come on – will they start this Sunday? If they do, it will tell us a lot about the way Cody is thinking – loyalty to the old guard is a factor, not a good sign.
If Noel Hickey is full-back – and I expect he will – this is going to be one hell of a test for him. While Hickey has been away Joe Canning has been cementing his reputation as one of the top forwards in the game; as I said already, I believe Joe will start this one in his usual position, edge of the square – will Hickey be able to handle him? Big battle here, one I know Hickey will be relishing – it will take a good man to get on top of Joe Canning, but even with all the questions about Hickey since his return (is he back to full speed? Is he up to the pace of the game yet?) I think he’ll come out on top.
There are so many other battles, and midfield is one I’m really looking forward to. Cha and Ger Farragher, two of the best ball-strikers in the game, so tidy, but also great men to deliver a ball inside – this will be a good one. Two crucial head-to-heads, and both in the Kilkenny inside line of attack – Eddie Brennan on Ollie Canning, and Richie Power on Shane Kavanagh. Ollie and Shane got a bit of a toasting against Offaly in the drawn game, suffered again for most of the second half of the replay before rallying – they’ll have to be on top of their game here for the full 70 minutes.
So much to look forward to then, in Croke Park. To make history this year, Kilkenny have to win only one championship game a month; they’ve already won their June game, now it’s July. I think they’ll do it.
The two qualifiers: A novelty in Belfast, and Carlow have already done brilliantly in getting over Laois – I think Antrim will be too strong here, at home. To Thurles, and the team everyone was talking about at the start of this year as being the biggest threat to Kilkenny, Tipperary.
If they really have any ambitions, they have to beat Wexford, and I think they will, and beat them well. Tipp have to make a statement, to their own people particularly, after the disappointment of Cork; this will be step one on the road back.
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