First half performance saves fading Cats

Kilkenny 2-22 Galway 3-14

Kilkenny 2-22 Galway 3-14

An outstanding first half performance by Kilkenny allowed the Leinster champions to hold off a late rally from Galway and claim victory at Semple Stadium today.

Brian Cody’s Cats, with man-of-the-match Henry Shefflin hitting 0-11, qualified for their tenth All-Ireland SHC semi-final on the trot despite having Derek Lyng sent off on 56 minutes.

Goals from James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick and Aidan Fogarty helped them turn around with a 2-13 to 0-06 lead in front 34,202 spectators.

Substitute Eugene Cloonan had a hand in two of Galway’s three goals – Niall Healy (1-01) and David Tierney (1-02) both netted – and Cloonan also scored a 67th-minute penalty, but the Cats duly gained revenge for missing out in last year's epic semi-final.

Galway’s fifth defeat in an All-Ireland quarter-final – they have now played nine since the system was changed in 1997 – took a while to come to fruition but by half time, Kilkenny looked out of sight.

The sides were evenly matched during the opening few minutes with points from Shefflin (0-02 (2f)) and Lyng cancelling out efforts from Damien Hayes and Alan Kerins (0-02).

But in the 10th minute, Galway ‘keeper Liam Donoghue must have wanted the Thurles ground to open and swallow him up.

‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick dangled a midfield free right in on top of Donoghue, the westerners’ captain misjudged the ball’s flight and allowed it to palm off his hand and into the net – Kilkenny were 1-03 to 0-03 ahead and they never allowed their lead to slip.

Fitzpatrick tried the same trick moments later and Donoghue looked to be in trouble again but the ball was swatted out of the Galway defence and they remained in touch at 1-07 to 0-05. But by that time Damien Hayes had passed up a goal chance with James McGarry doing well to chase away the effort.

Shefflin soon tagged on Kilkenny’s eighth point before young Fogarty darted through the Galway defence on a mazy 26th-minute run and kicked past the stranded Donoghue for goal number two.

Shefflin added his seventh point of the evening and Galway were in deep trouble.

It was left to Ger Farragher to grab a couple of scores before the break to save his side's embarrassment, but even then Conor Hayes’ outfit were still 13 points in arrears. Eoin Larkin (0-02), Martin Comerford and Eddie Brennan had raced Kilkenny’s tally up to 2-13.

Hayes sent for reinforcements before the half time whistle, bringing on the experienced trio of Cloonan, who was ending his two-year absence from championship hurling, Tierney and Richie Murray.

Two Shefflin points – taking his tally to 0-09 – issued a far from ideal start to the second half for the Tribesmen, but they clung on to what they could and ended up winning the second half by a good eight points.

Brian Cody’s victors moved 2-19 to 0-08 clear, just ten minutes into the second, with two 65s from Shefflin topping off a bright spell from the Noresiders. Both Tierney and Murray raised white flags for Galway.

Farragher’s fourth point followed before Healy managed to nestle the ball in McGarry’s net in the 47th-minute. Cloonan caught a high ball and went for goal, the ball rebounded and Healy was on hand to wallop it home.

Farragher and Larkin, who took his own tally to 0-04, traded scores before Tierney did well to end a barren spell in front of goal. Lyng’s sending off for his second bookable offence, a wild pull, allowed Galway the space to finally attack Kilkenny at will.

Although just to show that they were just as good with 14 men, Kilkenny then sent over the point of the game - perhaps even the point the season.

Eddie Brennan began it with a nonchalant back flick, JJ Delaney took that pass and sent a diagonal ball spiralling down to Shefflin, who turned and picked out the unmarked Martin Comerford with a pinpoint 30-yard pass.

The O’Loughlins forward did the rest, with a soaring drive over Donoghue’s cross bar.

However, the Cats managed only one more point – from Comerford again – as Galway controlled the closing stages. Tierney jumped the highest to smash a Cloonan delivery from the left to the Kilkenny net on 59 minutes.

David Forde had a goal ruled out for a square ball, Niall Healy pointed and then Cloonan won and whacked home his penalty, with a cheeky bit of top spin, to make it a six-point game – 2-21 to 3-12 – with three minutes to go.

Damien Hayes added a point but the Galway charge waned and Comerford’s final effort closed the championship door on last year’s beaten finalists.

Kilkenny - J McGarry; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, N Hickey; J Ryall, J Tennyson, T Walsh; E Larkin (0-04), D Lyng (0-01); E Brennan (0-01), J Fitzpatrick (1-02 (1-01f)), A Fogarty (1-00); E McCormack, M Comerford (0-03), H Shefflin 0-11 (5f, 2 '65')).

Subs used: M Fennelly for McCormack, M Rice for Fogarty.

Galway - L Donoghue (capt); D Joyce, T Og Regan, O Canning; D Hardiman (0-01), S Kavanagh, D Collins; F Healy, C Dervan; C Connolly, D Forde, A Kerins (0-02); D Hayes (0-02), G Farragher (0-05 (4f)), N Healy (1-01).

Subs used: E Cloonan (1-00 (1-00 pen)) for Connolly, D Tierney (1-02) for Mahon, R Murray (0-01) for Dervan, E Lynch for Forde.

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)

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