Yesterday in Salthill, Kilkenny tested Galway keeper Colm Callanan three times in the closing stages when looking for a win, but it’d be stretching the truth to say the crowd were on the edge of their seats.
Galway’s returning star Joe Canning provided the quality to keep them ahead of the Cats in the second half, and though the visitors could point to a John Power effort that came off the butt of the upright which could have turned the game their way, Galway’s work-rate made them deserving winners.
“A tight win’s always good for morale. You work hard over the winter and you’d be happy with the win,” said Galway boss Anthony Cunningham after the game.
“There was some great defending by Colm (Callanan) there in the goal at the finish. The game was highly competitive.
“Kilkenny will always create goal chances and they fought hard there at the finish to get the win. We probably had a few chances we’d be disappointed we didn’t convert ourselves, but we couldn’t fault the players on the work they put in. There’s always room for improvement.”
Kilkenny appeared to win the toss and faced the breeze in the first half, but in terms of conditions, the pitch had the biggest influence of proceedings — a yielding surface with deep dividing lines was a trial to all the players, betraying them with odd bounces when not trapping the ball in the turf.
Galway’s positives weren’t confined to the sight of Joe Canning on the field in springtime. Once home centre-back Greg Lally got to grips with Richie Hogan, the men in maroon had a firm footing for their attacks.
Andrew Smith and Jonathan Glynn used their strength well in the middle third and accurate free-taker Jason Flynn helped them to a five-point lead as the half-time whistle approached.
Credit to Kilkenny, they rallied in the final minutes of the half and two late Hogan frees made it 0-11 to 0-8 at the break.
Galway extended the gap to five early in the second half, with Glynn’s driving physicality complemented by Canning’s accuracy and vision, but Kilkenny didn’t wilt.
Richie Hogan led their charge with some impressive passing and point-taking of his own, and the margin was two points when he departed with an injury.
It was a fatal blow to the Cats’ prospects, despite that strong finish, and manager Brian Cody admitted he had been disappointed to lose Hogan.
“His hamstring tightened up on him badly and it was in serious danger of tearing so we couldn’t take that chance with him, so we took him off.
“Yeah, he was (playing well), he was after coming into it strong. He’s good enough to do that and he was definitely a loss but that’s the way things go for us. We had a couple of goals chances and we didn’t take them but overall last Sunday wasn’t a good performance, I thought today was much improved.”
Cunningham left the assembled media with a laugh about next week’s opponents: “Cork got 34 points Saturday night, I don’t know will we show up at all.” But he was heartened to have Joe Canning back fully fit, as any manager would be, and Galway will be optimistic next weekend.
For Kilkenny, the challenge is different, with the Ballyhale players committed to the club final and now a chance that their most experienced forward may miss a couple of games with a troublesome hamstring.
Cody wasn’t making excuses, however. “We wanted to try to win last Sunday and we won the first day; yeah, realistically the battle is on.
“We’ll take them on, it’s the Kilkenny team playing them, regardless.
“You’ll always have injuries and the team we have at the moment is what we have and we drive on with it.”
Scorers for Galway: J. Flynn 0-11 (0-7f, 0-1 65); J. Canning 0-4 (0-1 sl, 0-2 f); D. Higgins 0-2; C. Mannion, J. Regan and A. Smith 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R. Hogan 0-10 (0-8 f); L. Ryan and M. Kelly 0-2 each; J. Farrell, P. Walsh, W. Phelan and W. Walsh 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: J. Canning for Higgins, HT; B. Molloy for J. Flynn, 62; A. Harte for Tannian, 64; K. Hynes for Lally, 69; E. Burke for Regan, 70.
Subs for Kilkenny: J. Tyrrell for M. Walsh (inj), 11; K. Hogan for R. Hogan (inj) 57; K. Kelly for M. Kelly, 60.
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath).