The margin up to the hour mark was just three points and bizarrely so, given Kilkenny’s only two points from play had come in the first half via Luke Scanlon and Walsh, while their only scorer in the second half prior to their second goal was TJ Reid, all from placed balls.
Walsh’s disallowed goal in the 65th minute, after Bill Sheehan was judged to have dropped the hurley in setting him up, would have put three between the teams once more “and it would have given us a great lift!,” rued Kilkenny boss Brian Cody. “I am sure it was disallowed for a reason, but they had one disallowed in the first half (Brian Concannon) as well so it works that way.”
In the play subsequent to Walsh’s overruled score, Conor Cooney fired over the second of three scores on the trot and Galway were already thinking about Wexford on Saturday evening.
How could a team lacking so many scoring chances — they shot one first-half wide — be so close to one that was superior throughout and who had led from the 23rd minute? The Kilkenny full-backs Pádraic Walsh and Paddy Deegan should have worn capes, given the heroics they were performing.
Galway’s discipline was also questionable and both Daithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney were lucky to stay on the field.
However, Galway manager Micheál Donoghue put his team’s difficulty to shake them off down to the character of the opposition.
“That’s testament to Kilkenny. We’re under no illusions of what they have done this year. It is always a huge challenge every time we play them. They worked really hard and they restricted us and our play probably didn’t reflect it on the scoreboard and that’s just testament to Kilkenny and how hard they worked.”
Eventually, Walsh and Deegan gave in after a seemingly endless amount of ball flooded their area. The ball was not sticking enough in the Galway defence for Cody’s liking and, by the end, he had taken off half his starting forwards. Enda Morrissey was also replaced, having found Concannon too hot to handle.
Deciding to play against the wind in the opening half, Kilkenny knew their four-point deficit at the end of it (1-9 to 1-5) flattered them. A quick 1-1 in the dying minutes of the half, the goal — a TJ Reid penalty after Daithí Burke had smashed Luke Scanlon in the area — and the point a rare one from play via Walter Walsh, gave the score-line a different complexion.
Galway’s half-back lines were ruling the skies and the difference in conditioning between them and the young Kilkenny forwards on the wings, Martin Keoghan and Liam Blanchfield, was notable.
Galway’s disallowed goal came when Concannon had a second chance to find the net after an Eoin Murphy save ricocheted into the path of Conor Cooney.
Concannon was adjudged to have been in the parallelogram when he made contact with the ball. Full-forward Cooney soon after forced Murphy to make another save, before Canning had a close-range free pushed over the bar.
Kilkenny were living dangerously and Concannon and Conor Whelan were showing well. Yet, they were level in the 20th minute when Scanlon, who started promisingly, sent over a point to make it 0-4 apiece, but Galway then found their groove and Murphy was forced to deflect another shot over the crossbar.
It was double scores by the 28th minute, as Canning punished poor Kilkenny tackling and the 2017 hurler of the year sent home a penalty goal a minute, later when Whelan was impeded after a beautiful pick-up.
A Cathal Mannion point followed and Whelan had another goal opportunity in the 31st minute, only to hit the side netting. Kilkenny breathed a sigh of relief and, when Reid converted his own penalty, they were fortunate in the extreme to be still within reach of Galway.
Canning frees in the 44th and 48th minutes pushed Galway six up, but a run of Reid placed balls brought Kilkenny back into it.
It turned into the Canning and Reid show, as they traded points, but Canning was converting some of his from play, having been able to shrug off what looked like a serious shoulder injury after trying to stop Cillian Buckley.
Walsh and Deegan could only keep their plates spinning for so long and, after the disallowed Walter Walsh goal, they smashed, Cooney sending over three fine scores. Canning and substitutes Jason Flynn and Niall Burke followed with more and the scoreboard eventually began to do Galway some justice prior to Walsh’s counted green flag.
There may be three more meetings between these sides by the end of the year — they face off in Sydney — but now Galway have all the initiative.
J. Canning (1-12, 1-0 pen, 0-8 frees, 1 65); C. Cooney (0-4); C Mannion (0-2); B, Concannon, David Burke, J. Flynn, N. Burke (0-1 each).
T.J. Reid (1-9, 1-0 pen, 0-8 frees, 1 65); W. Walsh (1-1); L. Scanlon (0-1).
J. Skehill; A. Harte, Daithí Burke, A. Tuohey; P. Mannion, G. McInerney, J. Hanbury; J. Coen, David Burke (c); J. Cooney, J. Canning, C. Mannion; C. Cooney, B. Concannon, C. Whelan.
J. Glynn for B. Concannon (inj 51); J. Flynn for J. Cooney (61); N. Burke for C. Mannion (67); S. Loftus for J. Canning, P. Killeen for P. Mannion (both 70+1).
E. Murphy; E. Morrissey, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Delaney, C. Buckley (c), P. Murphy; C. Fogarty, J. Maher; M. Keoghan, T.J. Reid, L. Blanchfield; J. Donnelly, W. Walsh, L. Scanlon.
C. Fennelly for J. Donnelly (h-t); J. Holden for E. Morrissey (45); R. Leahy for M. Keoghan (55); B. Sheehan for L. Blanchfield (58).
F. Horgan (Tipperary).
Conor Cooney’s three successive scores between the 64th and 67th minutes gave Galway a cushion that allowed them to relax.
The All-Ireland champions don’t look like the crowns are weighing heavy on their heads whatsoever.
The forward options Micheál Donoghue has, being able to call Jason Flynn, Johnny Glynn and Niall Burke off the bench are second to none.
Galway weren’t firing on all cylinders and will kick themselves a little that they were only three up on the hour mark but they finished with class as the coping Kilkenny full-back line eventually crumbled.
Kilkenny replaced half their forward line and were it not for TJ Reid being so impressive from placed balls he might too have received the curly finger. A total of 1-2 from play for 77 minutes, the goal a consolation one, was a poor return uncommon to the Cats.
Brian Concannon took a knock and was replaced but it didn’t appear too serious. Richie Hogan warmed up a few times but was not called on. Brian Cody explained: “Ah yeah he is back with us now; we had him on the panel today and we didn’t bring him in today as it turned out but hopefully he can push on from here.”
Luke Scanlon started promising but the decision to switch Aidan Harte onto him worked for Micheál Donoghue as Harte had the better of him over the duration of the match. Johnny Hanbury didn’t look out of place in the halfback line either. Kilkenny chose not to match-up despite Galway’s switching, particularly in the fullforward line.
Padraic Mannion was a confident figure in the Galway half-back line and no Kilkenny marker could match him. Joe Canning gave a fine display as did Pádraic Walsh and Paddy Deegan in putting out so many fires at the back.
Fergal Horgan had his hands full and it appeared the decisions to disallow the two goals were correct. However, Daithí Burke should have been dismissed for his dangerous foul on Scanlon.
Galway head to Wexford next Saturday (5pm) knowing a Leinster final is in their hands if they win. Kilkenny have a couple of weeks before they face Davy Fitzgerald’s side in Nowlan Park.