Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 5-16
Galway travelled to O’Connor Park in Tullamore this afternoon hoping for an upset, but wary of the threat posed by a Kilkenny side that looked to be back to their brilliant best against Offaly in the previous round.
Their task looked tough before the start and it was positively gargantuan when TJ Reid pointed a free to put Kilkenny ten points up with seven minutes to play, yet they produced a memorable comeback to ensure that the two sides will have to do it all over again next Saturday evening, with the replay provisionally fixed for the same venue.
As final comebacks go, this one had everything and it was fitting that the two players who traded equally impressive scores in injury time were Henry Shefflin and Joe Canning, the two men who have provided such leadership to their respective sides over their careers.
Two goals from Conor Cooney gave Galway hope yet there will be real questions asked in Kilkenny about how Jonathan Glynn had such space to attack when he picked up a loose ball and eventually won the crucial penalty that kept this tie alive for the Tribesmen.
Galway supporters travelled in good numbers to this Leinster championship semi-final, paradoxically expecting a big performance that they all agreed, no-one was expecting.
Their lethargic demeanour during the warm up and in advance of the game appeared to be a further ploy to lull Kilkenny into a false sense of security and the first ten minutes of the game didn’t offer any hints of a big performance to come either. Niall Burke’s opening score was well taken and a large chunk of credit was also due to Iarla Tannion for the manner in which he collected a loose break, burst out of defence and played the long ball into Burke’s line.
However Kilkenny quietly and calmly took control of the tie for the next ten minutes, effectively and carefully picking off hits in a rapier-like fashion while Galway swung big and missed big with a broadsword-inspired approach.
Colin Fennelly accurately picked off two points from tight angles, TJ Reid added scores from frees that were needlessly conceded and without trying too hard, Kilkenny suddenly led by 0-5 to 0-2.
Galway looked to be expending far more energy than their opponents at this stage but uncharacteristic sloppy shooting prevented Kilkenny from pulling further ahead and slowly, Galway reeled them back in.
Andrew Smith popped over a point from sixty metres out after picking up a scrappy break around the middle to give Galway their second lead of the tie, but it was short lived as Kilkenny came down the field and registered the game’s first goal, slipped under Colm Callanan from close range by Eoin Larkin.
The Tribesmen needed a bit of luck to reinvigorate their challenge and they got it when a long ball from Smith was touched over the line by Niall Burke, but they failed to push ahead and two Padraig Walsh points helped Kilkenny to draw level by half time.
Jonathan Glynn’s introduction at the interval bore fruit immediately as he opened the scoring after the restart, but Galway’s noticeably higher levels of hunger and tenacity were invariably balanced out by Kilkenny’s sharpness and craft.
Jason Flynn soared high to field a long ball, burst through an illegal tackle and blasted a shot towards the corner of the net only to see Eoin Murphy produce a fabulous save to deny him, while at the other end Mark Kelly won a similar long ball, slipped past two men with a neat dummy and found Colin Fennelly. A split second later, the net rippled to the beat of the Ballyhale man’s strike.
Frees from Richie Hogan and TJ Reid made it a three point game, but Glynn was again to step up and deliver for the Galway men as he drew a penalty which was neatly placed to the net by Canning. Canning and TJ Reid traded points to leave the sides deadlocked at 2-13 each with a quarter of the game to go – now, if Galway were to deliver, the stage was set.
Instead, Brian Cody sent for his tried and trusted heroes off the bench – Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Aidan Fogarty. Eoin Larkin and Richie Hogan pointed from range, then Walsh pointed one of his own and then set up Fogarty for another. Daylight between the teams, and the chasm opened up even further as another astute delivery from Walsh found TJ Reid for a third goal.
With seven minutes to play, the result looked assured. Conor Cooney and Jason Flynn pointed but it looked like window dressing, and even when Cooney took a pass from Canning and slipped the ball to the net with three minutes remaining, it still looked like Kilkenny would ease home.
Instead, Galway finally delivered the goods for the watching public who were waiting for the unexpected. Cooney struck again for a second goal, Glynn picked up a handy ball in behind the full back line and left Cillian Buckley with little choice but to drag him down, and Joe Canning delivered another surgical strike from twenty metres.
Still there was time for more. Henry Shefflin produced a fantastic strike from the left corner of the field to edge Kilkenny in front one last time, but when Canning picked up the ball under the stand with the final play, it was written in the stars that he would give the game the conclusion it deserved.
He split the posts and ensured that supporters will have another occasion to look forward to next week.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, K Joyce; B Kennedy, J Tyrrell, C Buckley; R Hogan (0-5, 0-1f), P Walsh (0-2); W Walsh, M Kelly, TJ Reid (1-8, 0-7f); C Fennelly (1-3), R Power, E Larkin (1-1).
Subs: J Holden for Kennedy (34 – temp), T Walsh (0-1) for W Walsh (42), A Fogarty (0-1) for Power (50), H Shefflin (0-1) for Kelly (61), B Hogan for Tyrrell (69).
GALWAY: C Callanan; F Moore, R Burke, D Collins; J Coen, Daithí Burke, I Tannion; P Brehony, A Smith (0-1); David Burke, J Canning (2-3, 2-0 pens), C Cooney (2-7, 0-3f 0-2 ‘65s); J Flynn (0-2), N Burke (1-2), C Mannion.
Subs: J Glynn (0-1) for Mannion (HT), K Hynes for Smith (49), G McInerney for Brehony (59), J Cooney for David Burke (61), D Hayes for N Burke (62).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)