In Semple Stadium yesterday they outsmarted a Galway side which struggled in attack until the late introduction of minor star Niall Healy, but in effect fought a losing battle after conceding a second goal a minute into the second half. It brought Kilkenny their first title in four years and, more significantly, gave them a second treble after a lapse of 28 years.
Brian Cody was a dual medal-winner back in 1975 in senior and Under-21 just like J.J. Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Conor Phelan on this occasion. And, he would have been as impressed with the standard exhibited by the Martin Fogarty-managed side as anybody in the stadium.
Quite simply, Kilkenny had too much hurling for a Galway side which had shocked Tipperary in the semi-final, but never really managed to shape up like winners at any period of this game.
It was quite competitive for the opening 15 minutes, during which scores were level five times. However, even at that early stage there were indications of a weakness in the Galway attack which was to undermine them seriously.
It was reflected in the fact that, after a splendid opening point from midfielder Kevin Brady (one of their best players on the day), their scores came from Gerry Farragher frees.
In real terms, they rarely penetrated, coming up against a strong Kilkenny defence in which J.J. Delaney was prominent and captain Jackie Tyrrell gave good leadership at centre-back.
Likewise, full-back Canice Hickey (brother of senior star Noel, who captained the last winning team in 1999), was always in control at the edge of the goalmouth.
While Brady was prominent at stages for Galway, it was noteworthy that Tommy Walsh, his immediate opponent, was starting to exert an influence for Kilkenny. Even more noteworthy was the form of Conor Phelan at right half-forward, who used his strength to good advantage and fully exploited his skill once he settled. |Over the hour, it was he who made the greatest contribution to victory.
Galway were relieved to see wing-back Adrian Cullinane clear off the goal-line in the 16th minute, after keeper Aidan Diviney had saved from the impressive Aidan Fogarty. But, in another nine minutes, Kilkenny had the ball in the net, through Fogarty, after full-forward Michael Rice had made the opening.
By now, Galway were experiencing real problems in attack, where Richie Murray in particular was finding it very difficult to get involved in spite of several positional chances.
Indeed, but for the spirited play of their backs, they would have been in trouble. At the break, Kilkenny led 1-7 to 0-7.
That situation changed dramatically on the resumption, after a defensive mistake enabled Phelan to goal. A pointed free from Shane Hennessy soon afterwards opened up a lead of seven points and, psychologically, gave Kilkenny a vital advantage.
The introduction of Niall Healy, who had scored 1-10 for the minors in Croke Park the previous Sunday, helped revitalise the Galway attack. And, in time, improved play in defence was to produce a good flow of ball to the forwards.
However, that was about as much as Galway achieved. They never once threatened the Kilkenny goal and while Brady continued to put in a big effort and Healy looked threatening any time he gained possession, the return in terms of scores on the board was minimal.
That was also a credit to the sterling defensive work of the Kilkenny backs, with Ger Joyce and Mark Phelan very effective, the consistency of the half-backs and the work of Walsh, Phelan and Peter Cleere (after moving to full-forward).
Ten minutes from the end Farragher attempted a goal from a 30 yards free, but it was confidently stopped by goalkeeper David Herrity and after that it was just a question of waiting for the final whistle.
Michael Wadding made more obvious mistakes than would be expected of a referee of his experience.
Scorers for Kilkenny: C. Phelan 1-4; A. Fogarty 1-1; T. Walsh 0-3 (0-1 free); S. Hennessy 0-3 frees; B. Dowling and P. Cleere 0-1 each.
Galway: G. Farragher 0-7 frees; K. Brady 0-2; N. Healy 0-2; J.P. O'Connell 0-1.
KILKENNY: D. Herrity; G. Joyce, C. Hickey, M. Phelan; K. Coogan, J. Tyrrell (capt.), J.J. Delaney; S. Hennessy, T. Walsh; C. Phelan, P. Cleere, W. O'Dwyer; A. Fogarty, M. Rice, B. Dowling. Subs: S. O'Neill for Dowling (44th minute); E. McCormack for Cleere (56th minute).
GALWAY: A. Diviney; D. Collins, T. Og Regan, F. Moore (capt.); S. Kavanagh, E. Lynch, A. Cullinane; D. Hayes, T. Tierney, R. Murray; K. Burke, G. Farragher, D. Greene. Subs: N. Healy for Burke (34th minute); J.P. O'Connell for Greene (42nd); W. Donnellan for Tierney (50th).
Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).