Following years of effort, this is Galway’s first year in Leinster — if it’s a sign of things to come, then hurling patrons are in for an interesting year.
Before we make any mention of the game, a word to those in the St Lachtain’s club in Freshford, who hosted this historic Walsh Cup final. On a day when Kilkenny resembled the Lake District, huge swaths of the county under water following 48 hours of almost non-stop rain, the pitch was in magnificent condition, which helped to facilitate the fine display of the ancient game put on by two well-matched sides.
Facilitating the flow also was the sensible manner in which referee Barry Kelly implemented the new experimental rules; two yellow cards issued, Galway the culprits on both occasions, and while it was harsh on both Andy Coen and Cyril Donnellan to have to walk, this referee was enforcing the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law, and it worked.
Despite playing into a stiff breeze, Kilkenny began powerfully and would have been ahead after the first quarter were it not for a misunderstanding between keeper David Herity and stand-in full-back Brian Hogan which allowed a long-range Ger Farragher free drop to the net.
That goal meant Galway held a slim 1-2 to 0-4 lead after 17 minutes, but the second quarter saw a real western surge. Eight points without reply, six from free-taker Farragher, one each from corner-back Shane Kavanagh and midfielder Fergal Healy, saw Galway soar to a nine-point advantage (1-10 to 0-4) coming up to the break.
Crucially, however, Brian Cody’s men held their nerve and two points in injury-time, both from Kilkenny’s own hot-shot, Richie Power, brought the deficit back to manageable proportions, 1-10 to 0-6 at the short whistle.
In the first 10 minutes of the second half Galway continued to impress, and though now playing into the wind, increased their lead by a further point, 1-12 to 0-7. Always, however, that wind was going to be a factor, and after a massive puckout from Herity went all the way to Galway keeper Eric Ward, Power was on hand to apply immediate pressure, forced the youngster to foul the ball inside his own small rectangle. A penalty was awarded — and duly buried — by Power. Farragher replied with an immediate Galway point, but a minute later Kilkenny were back for more, and again it came after a massive route-one Herity puckout; midfielder Tommy Walsh (an impressive battling hour from the warrior from Tullaroan) returned an under-pressure clearance into Ward’s kitchen; again the keeper was put under pressure, and this time it was centre-forward Michael Rice with the final touch.
Their lead now down to just one goal — 2-7 to 1-13 — and with 20 minutes still to go, Kilkenny with their tails up and backed by that wind and a fine vocal home crowd, now it was Galway’s turn to face the pressure.
And face it they did. Not until the 61st minute did Kilkenny manage to gain parity, three further points from Power plus one each from Walsh and pacy wing-forward Michael Grace, against one each from Fergal Healy and Farragher, which made the score 2-12 to 1-15.
Into extra-time then, no-one complaining, given the entertainment value, and even at the end of the next 10 minutes it was still even, 2-15 to 1-18, Eddie Brennan getting a brace from full-forward for the Cats, Power with the other, while Farragher had two huge frees for Galway and midfielder David Tierney had their third.
The last period, however, was where the sides were finally separated. Kilkenny, now again with the wind at their backs, had two further points from Power, both again from placed balls, while Galway failed to score.
Richie Murray did have the ball in the net in the final seconds, after a fine run along the end-line from Niall Healy; unfortunately for the Tribesmen, however, Healy was adjudged to have crossed the line, and the score didn’t stand.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R. Power 1-11 (0-10 frees, 1-0 pen); M. Rice 1-0; M. Grace 0-2; E. Brennan 0-2; T. Walsh, R. Hogan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Galway: G. Farragher 1-11 (1-9 frees, 0-2 65’s); C. Donnellan 0-2; F. Healy 0-2; D. Tierney, R. Murray, S. Kavanagh (free), 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: D. Herity; J. Dalton, B. Hogan, J. Tyrell; J. Ryall, J. Tennyson, JJ Delaney; T. Walsh, D. Fogarty; M. Grace, M. Rice, R. Power; E. Brennan, R. Hogan, A. Fogarty. Subs: none used.
GALWAY: E. Ward; S. Kavanagh, D. McClearn, F. Moore; A. Coen, G. Mahon, A. Cullinane; F. Healy, R. Murray; D. Tierney, C. Donnellan, A. Callanan; G. Farragher, N. Healy, J. Gantley.
Subs: C. O’Donovan (Moore inj. 14); M. Ryan (Coen y/c 17); K. Hooban (Gantley 70+2); P. Killilea (Donnellan y/c 80); B. Burke (F. Healy 85). Blood sub: B. Burke (Kavanagh 44/47).
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath) — good job.