We have learned these last three years not to expect Kilkenny to ravage teams at this stage of the competition and a four-point margin hardly screams an emphatic win. But if anything the scoreline was slightly unfair to Brian Cody’s winning class of 2015.
They were the only team in this contest in the second-half. Joe Canning’s late goal from a 20-metre free will deceive the history books into thinking this was a tighter contest than it actually was.
Galway may have been majestic in the first-half but they were abject thereafter, their attack scoring just one point from play after half-time.
Canning and Jason Flynn, quite excellent in the opening half, were eaten up by Kilkenny. The Christians became the lions as Kilkenny showed a tenacity that had been missing for far too much of the first 35 minutes.
That substitute defender David Collins, with two points, ended up as Galway’s top scorer from play in the second half was an indication as it was an indictment of how his team were playing.
Both his shots came from distance, Galway finding the Kilkenny defensive unit a different prospect to what they faced and beat earlier in the game.
There were few standout performers for Kilkenny but then so many were contributing an equal part. If Padraic Walsh wasn’t at his best initially he tore into the affair in the second-half.
Eoin Larkin put behind him two frustrating over-carrying calls in the first-half to become a fundamental cog in his team’s comeback. Michael Fennelly was a force of nature the more the game developed.
Kilkenny, 0-14 to 1-8 behind at half-time, were level eight minutes into the second-half having score three points without reply — two TJ Reid placed balls and a Conor Fogarty effort.
With his side’s first score of the half, Collins restored Galway’s lead in the 46th minute. Not only was it brief but it was the last time they saw Kilkenny in their rear-view mirror.
Richie Hogan, who like Reid had been so quiet before the turnaround, made space to level the game for a sixth time. John Hanbury, a real firefighter for Galway when the crush came on, was sharp to hook Colin Fennelly as he was about to unload in the direction of Colm Callanan’s net.
Another Reid 65 put Kilkenny ahead for the first time since the 18th minute. Walter Walsh followed it with another point. Conor Whelan, one of the few sparks in the Galway forward line at that stage, cut the gap to one but the next three white flags were Kilkenny’s.
Collins stopped the rot on the hour mark but Galway may have considered it wasn’t going to be their day when Canning wided a central free. Colin Fennelly made no mistake with his chance in the 63rd minute before Whelan put another shot wide, this time a goal chance, after Joey Holden and Shane Prendergast had both missed an aerial ball.
It may only have been a four-point game at that stafe but the change Galway were getting out of the Kilkenny back-line was scant. The introduction of Richie Power was asking questions of the Galway full-back line that hadn’t previously been posed and Kilkenny were profiting from the space left by their opponents who were pressing up to assist their beleaguered attack.
Galway substitutes Greg Lally and Conor Cooney hit killer wides just as Kilkenny hit three points on the bounce between the 67th and 70th minutes, the Fennelly brothers posting points as well as Walter Walsh, to extend their cushion to seven points.
Canning beat five Kilkenny men with an injury-time free but his deflated reaction told its own story. His shoulders weren’t so slumped in the first-half when he and Flynn were prominent in an attack full of vigour.
Galway were dominant particularly in the air where if they weren’t securing they were spoiling. Daithí Burke was doing a fantastic detail job on Hogan. It was last year’s hurler of the year whose speculative shot was followed up by Walter Walsh in setting up Reid for his 13th minute goal but Hogan had been effectively neutralised.
Canning scored Galway’s opening three points, two coming from play when Conor Fogarty and then Holden were caught out. By the end of the half, he had accumulated seven scores, five from frees. Flynn had bagged four, three of them long-range frees.
Eoin Murphy’s goal was hardly threatened but Flynn was giving Kilkenny jip on their left wing and in midfield Andy Smith and David Burke were edging the exchanges.
In an 11-minute barren spell for Kilkenny, Galway notched five points although Kilkenny supporters were crying foul about the number of frees coming their way.
But the biggest frustration had been the team’s inferior levels of intensity.
An irate Brian Cody summoned his management team to the dressing room at the end of the half. Some words had to be spoken, some harsh truths told.
The message couldn’t have clearer, the lesson never learned better.
TJ Reid (1-7, 0-5 frees, 0-2 65s); R Hogan, E Larkin, G Aylward, C Fennelly, M Fennelly, W Walsh (0-2 each); J Coen (own point), C Fogarty, P Walsh (0-1 each).
J Canning (1-8, 1-5 frees); J Flynn (0-4, 3 frees); C Whelan, D Collins (0-2 each); C Donnellan, David Burke (0-1 each).
E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; M Fennelly, C Fogarty; C Fennelly, R Hogan, TJ Reid; G Aylward, W Walsh, E Larkin.
R Power for R Hogan (60); J Power for G Aylward (62); G Lally for C Donnellan (64).
C Callanan; P Mannion, J Hanbury, J Coen; I Tannian, Daithi Burke, A Harte; A Smith, David Burke; J Flynn, C Donnellan, J Glynn; C Whelan, J Canning, C Mannion.
D Collins for A Harte (24); F Moore for A Smith (blood, 43-45); G Lally for A Smith (blood, 51-52); C Cooney for A Smith (56); S Maloney for J Flynn (65).
J Owens (Wexford)