Kilkenny 1-16 Galway 0-15
By Francis Mooney
Kilkenny charged into the NHL final with a compelling second half performance at the Gaelic Grounds.
John Power’s goal early in the final quarter proved decisive as Galway’s brave challenge was quelled.
The Cats were far from their best, but there were signs that they can blossom in the summer ahead, and manager Brian Cody will have been delighted with the spirit shown by his side when they fell six points behind, particularly with a stoic defensive performance.
They dominated the second period, conceding just four points as they imposed themselves on the westerners.
Michael Fennelly and Henry Shefflin nudged Kilkenny into an early lead, but the sides were level on four occasions during the opening 20 minutes as the Tribesmen warmed to the battle.
Goalkeeper Colm Callanan put them in front in the ninth minute with a monster free from 80 metres, and Niall Burke’s point had them two clear.
It could have been worse for the Cats had Fennelly not got back to halt the marauding Padraig Brehony, before Brian Kennedy made a vital interception to deny Joe Canning a goal chance.
Kilkenny regained their composure to get back on terms through Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid, but Shefflin’s 19th minute score was their last for 18 minutes, as the Connacht men took over.
JJ Delaney managed to deflect a Caning shot out for a ’65 which Conor Cooney converted for one of five points he steered over from play and placed balls in the space of ten devastating minutes as Galway went six clear.
Reid’s stoppage time free was a long time coming, and at the break, Galway led by 0-11 to 0-6.
Reid and Colin Fennelly narrowed the gap in a high tempo start to the second half for Brian Cody’s men.
Shefflin’s delightful touch set Reid up for his first point from play, and it was Shefflin who broght his side level with a delightful long range effort.
Kilkenny were now on top in most areas, and went back in front through Colin Fennelly in the 49th minute.
Both sides had goal chances, with Davie Burke’s first-time effort coming back off the crossbar, while at the other end, Callanan had to be alert to save from John Power.
Power did hit the net in the 54th minute, rising to fetch a long delivery and shoot past Callanan for a four points advantage.
It was the score that finally broke Tribal resolve, and while, they responded with scores from Cooney and David Burke, Kilkenny never looked likely to let this one slip away from them, even when Kennedy had to throw himself into a heroic block to deny Jonathan Glynn.
Wing back Padraig Walsh capped an immense display with his second score of the afternoon, and Galway’s final effort ended with Cooney’s drive free kept out by a line of defenders.
Kilkenny: E Murphy, P Murphy, JJ Delaney, B Kennedy, P Walsh (0-2), B Hogan, C Buckley (0-1), M Fennelly (0-1), R Hogan, W Walsh, C Fennelly (0-3), TJ Reid (0-6, 5f), J Power (1-0), M Kelly, H Shefflin (0-3).
Subs: L Ryan for W Walsh, A Fogarty for R Hogan
Galway: C Callanan (0-1, f), J Coen, R Burke, D Collins, A Harte, J Cooney, Daithi Burke, David Burke (0-1), P Brehony, N Burke (0-1), C Cooney (0-8, 3f, 1 ’65), A Smith (0-2), J Glynn, J Canning (0-1), C Mannion (0-1).
Subs: David Glennon for N Burke, D Hayes for Brehony, K Hynes for Smith, J Flynn for Mannion.
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).