Cats undone by Tribal warfare

It was the game that convinced Brian Cody to turn the thermostat down — way down — on his relationship with Kilkenny’s players.

It was also the game Greg Kennedy thought he had lost Galway a glorious chance of a first All-Ireland final in eight years. Sent off in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final for a second yellow card in the 28th minute, the Loughrea defender felt he would be remembered in infamy.

“There was no worse feeling. Then the 15-minute break at half-time. It was like torture,” he said. “The wondering would we be able to keep it going with 14 men, especially against a team like Kilkenny.”

Survived they did, the young bucks of Richie Murray and David Tierney sowing it into the Kilkenny midfield while Kevin Broderick made Croke Park his playground with a skilful daintiness. Even with refereeing lax in recent years, Kennedy feels he’d have been snared were the game to take place now.

“I’d be gone earlier,” he laughed. “Officials are more alert now, there are more eyes and ears on players and they’re all wired up. In fairness, referees have copped on and are consulting with their people around them.”

That’s not to say that Kennedy doesn’t think there won’t be sparks in the early stages of Sunday’s final, like there was in that 2001 semi-final. In fact, he believes Galway need a bit of needle to reach the pitch of the game.

“In 2001, we went out with the attitude that you hit first or get hit. Richie Murray was only 19 and I got hold of him and told him that before that ball was throw in, to lay down a marker, and he had his best game ever.

“There was a bit of afters and getting to know yous and it’s what we needed to do to get up for the game.

“If we weren’t there from the start, we were going to be left behind. It’s what’s needed the next day as well. Mix fire with fire. Kilkenny can chill out, pop over a few scores then throw some fire again but Galway have to be tuned in for the whole of it.

“They showed the intensity needed in the Leinster final and they have to be cute and slow down the game if Kilkenny go ahead.”

That semi-final 11 years ago was the first of Cody’s three defeats to Galway in championship hurling (no other county has beaten them as much in the SHC). But it was the most cutting and defining reverse. In the build-up to the game, Kilkenny were already being anointed as champions for a second year in a row. Their substitutes were being depicted as the second best team in the country.

Like this past July, Galway were a green team but the respect Tierney and Murray showed Brian McEvoy was minimal. John Power admitted Kilkenny were “pushed around and basically bullied” on the day.

Cody as manager was never the same. He felt he had been weak in his preparations.

As one former players put it: “He changed his mindset. He distanced himself further from the players. He came a different animal altogether.”

But why is it that Galway have been able to compete with Kilkenny?

“Galway are like a strike of lightening. You never know when it’s going to come,” said Kennedy.

“There was 2001 and 2005 but you look at the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final. After 60 minutes, we were level and Noel Hickey intercepted a ball destined for Damien Hayes.

“Had Hayes got it, he was straight through and it was a goal. But Hickey denied him, Eddie Brennan was left alone and we ended up losing by 10 points in the end.”

Prior to the 2001 game, manager Noel Lane had the B team in training wearing Kilkenny jerseys. Novel at the time but agricultural compared to Galway’s preparations now.

“The background work, the tackle counts and turnovers for each player. They have that in abundance now.

“Whatever weaknesses Kilkenny have, the Galway players have been told them. You look back to Tipperary in 2010 and how they doubled their tackle count from 2009 against Kilkenny. They knew what was missing because of the work they had put into studying the game.”

As for Cody’s remarks intended for referee Barry Kelly, Kennedy doesn’t read too much into them. “I think it’s only a bit of spicing things up. Kilkenny aren’t dirty but they’re as hard as hell. They hurl on the edge.

“I marked Shefflin, Brennan and Larkin and not one of them ever pulled a mean stroke. Barry Kelly has been good to Kilkenny in matches that he has done and I’ve often seen him not so nice to Galway. I hope if Galway get a rub of the green it’s in the second half. If the backs hold out, the forwards will do damage but there’ll be serious pressure put on them.”

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