Dominating the last 20 minutes, Kilkenny cruised to a semi-final place in the Allianz NHL on April 23, while defeat consigns Galway to 11 weeks of inactivity before they line out in their first championship outing.
The Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was more pleased to report continuing progress than the actual fact of finishing on top of the group (after scoring their only goal of the campaign).
“We were expecting a big test. A lot of our players are inexperienced and you can’t buy this kind of experience. We were dogged and we were genuine,” he said.
“Going in level at half-time was a bonus because of the strong wind.”
Conor Hayes accepted that his team wasn’t good enough to win and acknowledged that missed chances in the first half were costly.
“We were not good enough in the second half. They were that bit better - more clinical in their finishing,” the Galway coach stated. “It’s a loss not to make the play-offs. We would have liked to get to another stage.”
The opening quarter provided the most competitive phase of the game.
The sides were level at 0-3 each after 12 minutes before Ger Farragher pointed twice to give them the biggest lead they were to enjoy, but thereafter Galway struggled for scores.
The reason was two-fold. Firstly, Kilkenny’s defence - and particularly the half-backs - monopolised the play, with late replacement Jackie Tyrrell quickly making a big impact on the right flank and John Tennyson settling down to play very solidly.
Conversely, Galway’s first-touch was poor and it cost them possession and scoring chances at a stage when they were enjoying plenty of possession.
Apart from Farragher - who hit seven wides - there was also a notable lack of penetration in the full-forward line. Here Eugene Cloonan was well policed by JJ Delaney and, while Niall Healy’s play was promising at times, he was also closely marked by Michael Kavanagh.
What it amounted to was that Galway’s best play was coming from their backs, with Tony Óg Ó Regan one of the team’s most consistent performers and wing-backs David Collins and Derek Hardiman also notable.
Unfortunately for the Westerners (missing Kevin Broderick, Alan Kerins and Damien Hayes, who made a late appearance), they failed to capitalise on some hard-won possession. They saw Kilkenny draw level in the 29th minute and the sides retired level on 0-7 each at the break.
Kilkenny, who had moved around their entire forward line, were to reap the benefits in the second half, further gaining from the input of Willie O’Dwyer at right half-forward. James Ryall, brought in at right half after Tyrrell was surprisingly withdrawn, also did well, while Donncha Cody was much more settled in the left corner against Farragher.
Ryall actually scored the first point after the resumption and, while Farragher negated this before Eoin Larkin and Niall Healy (with a kicked shot which could very well have ended up in the net) swapped scores, the game swiftly moved in Kilkenny’s direction.
They had opened up a six points margin before Healy got Galway’s only other score. That was 10 minutes from the end and by now Kilkenny were hurling well with themselves and winning key battles. Martin Comerford and Eoin Larkin were to the forefront in attack - along with Fogarty and O’Dwyer - and their backs were very effective under pressure.
: Kilkenny: W. O’Dwyer 1-1; R. Power 0-4 frees; E. Larkin 0-3; M. Comerford 0-2 and A. Fogarty 0-2 each; M. Rice, J. Fitzpatrick, J. Ryall and D. Cody (free) 0-1 each. Galway: G. Farragher 0-6 (0-3 frees, 0-1 ‘65); N. Healy 0-3; R. Murray 0-1.
: P.J. Ryan; M. Kavanagh, J.J. Delaney, D. Cody; J. Tyrrell (capt.), J. Tennyson, T. Walsh; M. Fennelly, M. Rice; M. Comerford, R. Power, E. Larkin; E. McCormack, J. Fitzpatrick, A. Fogarty.
: J. Ryall for Tyrrell and W. O’Dwyer for McCormack (second half).
: L. Donoghue (capt.); D. Joyce, T. Óg Regan, G. Mahon; D. Hardiman, C. Dervan, D. Collins; F. Healy, S. Kavanagh; D. Tierney, D. Forde, R. Murray; G. Farragher, E. Cloonan, N. Healy. Subs: A. Callanan for Forde (46th).
: A. Callanan for Forde (46th minute); D. Hayes for Cloonan (61st).
: B. Kelly (Westmeath). Barry Kelly’s refereeing reflected the Galway display - good (for the better part) and bad (through ignoring obvious fouls).