How Kilkenny were only three clear at the finish is something of a head-scratcher, even more puzzling is how their opponents managed to claw the deficit back to a solitary score having been put almost out of sight on several occasions during the first period.
Sure, Galway had their goal chances. Davy Glennon twice failed to finish sweeping moves during the opening half, the first chance certainly the one they rued most. Cathal Mannion staved off Conor Fogarty in cutting in from the left corner and while the shot was on, Mannion opted to offload possession across the danger area, though Glennon was unable to oblige.
On 24 minutes, Niall Healy, a lively figure throughout, threw the ball out to the unmarked Glennon, but the corner-forward’s concentration was elsewhere and the sliotar drifted harmlessly wide.
Galway’s lack of killer instinct — not the first time that’s been written — saw them nine adrift at the interval and while Kilkenny eased off on the throttle for the second period, they still created a further four goal openings. In the end, their second-half strike rate registered a disappointing 25%, and even at that, Jonjo Farrell’s 56th minute effort was disallowed for square ball.
The Thomastown forward had been caught on the hop minutes earlier when Walter Walsh’s effort came down off the post, Farrell swinging fresh air three yards out from Colm Callanan’s goal. Indeed, Callanan was one of the few Galway hurlers to depart Nowlan Park satisfied with his day’s work, having pulled off two impressive saves late on.
So, returning to our earlier question, how exactly did we arrive at a final scoreline of 2-16 to 1-16?
Cody’s response: “Hurling is like that. We could say we were surprised by the way the Tipperary game went, so you can never legislate for what happens. Scores can come, thick and fast.”
There was a great deal of truth to his final utterance, with the home outfit posting 1-6 inside the opening 10 minutes.
Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin and Colin Fennelly may have been absent (no injury troubles, Cody later assured us), but their colleagues were ready, able and waiting to carry the scoring threat. Proceedings were little over a minute old when Richie Hogan’s free was gathered by Mark Kelly and the full-forward drove high into the top left hand corner of Callanan’s goal — Galway supporters already experiencing flashbacks to the 25-point mauling at this very venue two years ago.
Hogan (0-2), TJ Reid (free) and Geoff Brennan (0-3) piled early pressure on the visitors and even at such an early juncture it was evident the Galway half-back line of Aidan Harte, Iarla Tannian and Daithí Burke were in serious trouble.
Hogan had more than enough pace for Tannian, Walter Walsh crucified young Daithí Burke in the air and Brennan, through nothing more than correct positioning, had three points to his name by the end of the first quarter.
Gearóid McInerney (0-2) and Niall Healy pared the margin back to four (1-6 to 0-5), though a second Kilkenny spurt yielded five unanswered points thereafter. Again, the half-forward line and midfield inflicting most damage.
Conor Cooney and McInerney once more set about repairing the damage with a flurry of points but Galway’s die was cast on the run-in to the break.
The second period proved a soulless affair, Galway hopes fleetingly raised by Conor Cooney’s penalty strike on 60 minutes. And while the westerners did outscore the home outfit 1-8 to 0-5, nothing other than a Kilkenny victory was ever on the menu.
In the recent history of Kilkenny and Galway, this was very much a case of same old, same old.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; C Fogarty, M Walsh, J Tyrell; B Kennedy, L Ryan, C Buckley; P Walsh, G Brennan; W Walsh, R Hogan, J Brennan; JJ Farrell, M Kelly, TJ Reid.
GALWAY: C Callanan; D Collins, S Kavanagh, J Coen; A Harte, I Tannian, Daithi Burke; David Burke, P Brehony; J Flynn, G McInerney, C Cooney; C Mannion, N Healy, D Glennon.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R Hogan (1-3); TJ Reid (0-6, 0-4 frees); W Walsh, G Brennan (0-3 each); M Kelly (1-0); JJ Farrell (0-1).
Scorers for Galway: C Cooney (1-7, 0-6 frees, 1-0 pen); N Healy (0-4); G McInerney (0-3); N Burke, P Brehony (0-1 each).
Subs for Kilkenny: J Power for J Brennan (48 mins), P Phelan for G Brennan (60 mins).
Subs for Galway: N Burke for Mannion (46 mins), P Killeen for Flynn (52 mins), B Landers for D Glennon (54 mins).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).