They hit 11 wides compared to Galway’s 12 on an afternoon when it was more about hooks and blocks than shots. However, it was the strength of their second half start that paved the way for a comeback victory having been five points behind at the break, 0-6 to 0-11
Backed by the wind, they had undone all of Galway’s hard work in just 10 minutes. An Andy Smith point stopped the rot but Kilkenny didn’t look back once Padraig Walsh, a standout performer, equalised in the 48th minute.
Galway were left to curse the crossbar when David Burke met a Joe Canning sideline only to see it ricochet away to safety and from the same play Kilkenny went ahead for only the second occasion in the game.
The only goal came in the 54th minute when a long delivery from a free was caught and dispatched to the net by John Power.
In a clash full of genuine endeavour, if at times questionable execution, it was a vital score and Kilkenny made the most of its psychological worth. Cillian Buckley answered a Conor Cooney point with a terrific one of his own despite being creased by Jonathan Glynn after sending it over.
Brian Kennedy, another impressive performer, was on call to prevent a Galway goal in the 63rd minute and when the gap was cut to two by David Burke three minutes later Kilkenny responded well through Padraig Walsh and Henry Shefflin scores.
Glynn was unceremoniously fouled by JJ Delaney in the 69th minute and referee James McGrath whistled for a free, although the developing play may have resulted in a Galway goal to make it a one-point game.
Cooney’s resulting 20-metre bullet was absorbed by the Kilkenny wall on the line and with that any danger of a surprise finale was snuffed out.
With the significant wind playing a factor, a simple judgement of this game would summarise it as Kilkenny managing six points against Galway’s four. Or, when each team benefited from it, the Cats’ managing 1-10 to their opponents’ 0-11.
But a deeper analysis would show there were quieter displays on the Galway side. Canning was more bystander than protagonist as Conor Cooney retained free-taking duties and the leadership role in attack.
Canning, though, was marooned in the inside line for a large part of the second half before eventually coming out to the half forwards midway through the second half.
But by that stage Galway were fighting a tide. As Anthony Cunningham acknowledged: “In the first 10 minutes of the second half we probably lost control there in the middle third and they came strong and that is going to happen against strong opposition you meet at this stage. We rallied there again at the finish and had some hard luck but you don’t get any plaudits for hard luck.”
Kilkenny’s fightback was fashioned primarily by Walsh, Buckley and Kennedy who had the beating of their opponents in the second half.
Brian Cody didn’t want to risk of swelling heads but admitted: “They definitely played well. That’s why they’re on the panel. Their ambition is to break onto the team and that’s what they’re trying to do.”
The calm authority of Shefflin was just as influential in Kilkenny keeping their composure after a first half when Galway succeeded in varying their play between distance passing and running hard through the Cats’ central defence.
The sides were level at five points apiece when TJ Reid had a goalbound shot and Galway made the most of the let-off by scoring the next six points of the game.
All but one of them came from Cooney’s stick as he gave Brian Hogan a difficult time of it. One of them came via a 65 after Canning had a shot deflected.
Colin Fennelly found the Galway net just before half-time but it was disallowed. As it turned out, it wasn’t a reprieve but an indication of what was to come.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid (0-5, 4fs), H Shefflin (0-4), C Fennelly (0-3), J Power (1-0), P Walsh (0-2), M Fennelly, C Buckley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Galway: C Cooney (0-8, 3fs, 1 65), A Smith (0-2), C Callanan (f), N Burke, J Canning, C Mannion, D Burke (0-1 each).
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, B Kennedy; P Walsh, B Hogan, C Buckley; M Fennelly, R Hogan; J Power, C Fennelly, TJ Reid; W Walsh, M Kelly, H Shefflin.
Subs for Kilkenny: L Ryan for W Walsh (56), A Fogarty for R Hogan (65), JJ Farrell for C Fennelly (70).
GALWAY: C Callanan; D Collins, R Burke, J Coen; A Harte, Daithi Burke, J Cooney; A Smith, P Brehony, N Burke, C Cooney, David Burke; J Canning, J Glynn, C Mannion.
Subs for Galway: D Glennon for N Burke (46), D Hayes for P Brehony (56), K Hynes for A Smith (62), J Flynn for C Mannion (69).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).