The spectre of last summer’s 19 point championship humiliation hung over this re-match for the visitors and Hayes was more than happy with the performance produced by his troops and Ger Farragher in particular.
Kilkenny won as expected, primarily because of their goal-scoring potential. Galway by comparison relied on the brilliant striking from ex-minor star Farragher who hit 15 points, a total enhanced by the conversion of two sideline shots late in the game.
Hayes felt Galway’s biggest problem was that they conceded goals too easily. Two of them came from John Hoyne, who showed some sparkling form at full-forward with Henry Shefflin and late substitute Eddie Brennan also finding the net.
But, the total could have been bigger, considering that Hoyne was denied by a fine save from Galway ‘keeper Liam Donoghue and a goal line clearance from corner-back Fergal Moore.
Yet, the Galway manager’s reaction was positive - bearing in mind the last meeting of the sides.
“It might have looked at one stage we were going to collapse, but the team played with a lot of heart.”
His counterpart Brian Cody was pleased also - though he declined to make another major pronouncement on the experimental rules - which claimed two victims yesterday.
Galway lost centre-back Liam Hodgins in the eighth minute after he had made a promising start. It resulted in the switch of Tony Óg Regan to centre-back (where he impressed) and the move of Ollie Canning from midfield to left half - where he was also to make an important contribution.
Up to then, Kilkenny had only two scores on the board, but then they hit a purple patch with goals from Hoyne and Shefflin (who always had Damien Joyce in difficulties) had them ahead 2-4 to 0-1 by the 15th minute.
Key to their early grip was the strength of the defence, and particularly the half-back line, where Michael Kavanagh was quick to make an impact on the right and Tommy Walsh was hugely influential in the centre.
And, they also did better at midfield, mainly through Derek Lyng. Up front, Shefflin’s clever play, the promise of Martin Comerford at centre-forward and the work-rate of Richie Power greatly contributed to Hoyne’s increasing menace.
At the other end, Galway would have really struggled but for the threat posed by Kevin Broderick and the promise of Farragher. And, as the Kilkenny backs began to concede frees under growing pressure, Farragher started to pick off points from a variety of angles to keep the visitors in touch.
Improved play saw them break Kilkenny’s grip, but in essence it was Farragher’s impeccable shooting which had them in such a respectable position at the interval, trailing by a mere two points, 2-9 to 0-13.
Immediately after the resumption, Broderick’s opportunism and skill earned him a goal which had Galway in front for the only time since the 5th minute, but in less than 40 seconds Hoyne had the ball in the net at the other end. Kilkenny were now favoured by a slight breeze, which helped them to a degree, but they were to force the pace for much of the half mainly because of their overall strength.
Around the three-quarters stage they enjoyed a seven points lead and it was following this that Hoyne missed the chance of his hat-trick when Fergal Moore saved a certain goal (and the referee was booed after yellow-carding Comerford).
Yet Galway and Farragher kept battling away. Twice in the closing minutes he put over sideline shots (both from about 60 yards range, on opposite wings) and the cumulative effect was to see them behind by a mere four points at the final whistle.
Clearly, Galway have a long way to go before they redeem their reputation, but on this occasion they went down with a bit of pride.
*Ger Harrington’s refereeing in general play was good, but the manner in three players were sent off left a doubt as to whether it was a case of strictly applying the new rules or being over-fussy!
: Kilkenny - J. Hoyne 2-3; H. Shefflin 1-7 (0-6 frees); E. Brennan 1-2; M. Comerford, M. Kavanagh, W. O’Dwyer and R. Power 0-1 each. Galway: G. Farragher 0-15 (0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘65, 0-4 sideline); K. Broderick 1-2; D. Forde 0-2; N. Healy and K. Hayes 0-1 each.
: J. McGarry (capt.); J. Tennyson, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; M. Kavanagh, T. Walsh, J.J. Delaney; B. Barry, D. Lyng; J. Fitzpatrick, J. Hoyne, H. Shefflin. Subs: E. Brennan for Fitzpatrick and J. Maher for O’Dwyer (50th minute).
: A. Fitzpatrick for Comerford (62nd).
: L. Donoghue (capt.); D. Joyce, S. Kavanagh, F. Moore; T. Og Regan, L. Hodgins, D. Collins; O. Canning, D. Hayes; A. Smyth, D. Forde, F. Healy; D. Hayes, G. Farragher, K. Broderick. Subs: R. Murray for Smyth (32nd minute); K. Hayes for Healy (49th); N. Healy for Hayes (57th).
: D. Hardiman for Hodgins (8th).
: G. Harrington (Cork).