If the drawn final was the game Galway needed, this was the one they wanted.
What transpired in Croke Park softened a few coughs in Galway and gave some followers a welcome dose of reality, but in Semple Stadium yesterday those voices in a crowd of 25,102 strengthened again as the All-Ireland champions rediscovered their untouchable 2017 selves.
Kilkenny had whittled down their 12-point advantage to a single point with 15 minutes remaining, but, as Micheál Donoghue stressed afterwards, Galway weren’t going to have everything their own way. Not against Kilkenny.
That 12-point difference might have been resurrected in the 41st minute had Joe Canning not flashed a shot left of Eoin Murphy’s far goalpost and Donoghue might have been pondering how best to play down the strength of this Galway performance.
Instead, the sliotar found a net at the other end seconds later when a James Maher shot came off the upright and with Daithí Burke about to clear his lines, Colin Fennelly managed to push the ball past the goal-line.
There was still seven points between the team in the 48th minute but the next three scores were Kilkenny’s. Substitute Richie Hogan pointed and was followed by Conor Fogarty and a placed ball from TJ Reid when Hogan added a third goal, sending a groundstroke past James Skehill after a driving run from Reid.
Canning fired back with Galway’s first score for eight minutes although it seemed to be cancelled out soon after when Fogarty again launched a ball towards the Killinan End posts only for HawkEye to overrule the umpires’ decision to award a score.
Cathal Mannion sent one long and true between the posts and Reid followed it with a free but Galway struck the following three points, the second of them a Conor Cooney strike given the green light by HawkEye.
Another Reid free made it a four-point game but Aidan Harte increased the cushion again. Replacement Jason Flynn was denied a goal by Eoin Murphy in additional time but he had been impeded in the build-up and Canning punished the indiscretion. Flynn himself became the eighth Galway forward to score from play then and the Bob O’Keeffe Cup’s stay west of the Shannon had been extended.
The finish was in keeping with what had been an at times dazzling Galway show in the first half when they were peppering Murphy’s goal.
But the fact Kilkenny made a game of it was no surprise to Donoghue.
“We knew and expected nothing less from Kilkenny, they were going to come back, they’ve proven it all season. The calibre of team that they have and they’re still going to have a massive say in this championship.
“Every day, we keep saying the same thing, we’ll get the work-ons from and the learnings from this game now, the biggest advantage is we’ve the couple of weeks to regroup and to refocus and go again.
“All credit to Kilkenny for coming back, but our boys showed no panic, their use of the ball, their determination and quality and bravery to use the ball at that stage was very evident.”
As daunting as a clash with Limerick next weekend looks for Kilkenny — more so if they are without Walter Walsh — Brian Cody can at least take some heart from how his side yet again showed their heart.
“Well, you can talk about a game of two halves from our point of view,” he remarked. “We gave them a lot of leeway in the first half. We started off OK but they benefited from a lot of our mistakes in the first half and as it went on the score began to widen. It looked fairly bleak for us for a while.
But then we got them in at half-time and they realised what they had to do. There was nothing fantastic said in the dressing room or anything like that. But the response of our players was magnificent in the second half against the best team in the country.
“We brought a huge lead down to two points and it’s very, very difficult to sustain that in these conditions. But we fought to the bitter end and they pulled away a small bit in the end and that was it really.”
“The best team in the country” was quite the admission for Cody to make. Fitting in light of a pulsating first half in which the champions raced into a 1-9 to 0-1 by the 19th minute.
Johnny Glynn had a sniff of a goal in the 11th minute when he sent a ball wide after the excellent Cathal Mannion had turned Paddy Deegan. He made amends two minutes later when he fielded a long clearance to shoot and his strike was too hot for Murphy who parried it past himself.
Galway followed it with five points without reply, a run emulated by Kilkenny, only for Galway to go again
with another handful, Mannion featuring once more.
Ger Aylward’s 34th-minute goal gave Kilkenny relief but it might have easily been disallowed for a dropped hurley or an excessive amount of steps.
That said, he also looked to be fouled on his way to scoring it.
Reid sent over a free but Conor Whelan cancelled it out with his third of four points on a day when he, Mannion and Glynn in Galway’s starting inside line contributed 1-11 from play.
Not that they’re likely to get ahead of themselves any time soon.
Not after their lesson eight days ago.
Scorers for Galway:
J. Canning (0-10, 6 frees); C. Mannion (0-6); J. Glynn (1-1); C. Whelan (0-4); N. Burke, A. Harte (0-2 each); J.
Cooney, C. Cooney, J. Flynn (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny:
T.J. Reid (0-9, 6 frees, 1 65), C. Fennelly, R. Hogan (1-1 each); G. Aylward (1-0), J. Donnelly, J. Holden, J. Maher, C. Fogarty (0-1 each).
J. Skehill; A. Tuohy, Daithí Burke, J. Hanbury; P. Mannion, G. McInerney, A. Harte; J. Coen, David Burke (c); J. Cooney, J. Canning, N. Burke; C. Mannion, J. Glynn, C. Whelan.
Subs for Galway:
C. Cooney for N. Burke (47); J. Flynn for J. Cooney (61); S. Loftus for David Burke (69).
E. Murphy; P. Murphy, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; J. Holden, C. Buckley (c), E. Morrissey; C. Fogarty, J. Maher; J. Donnelly, T.J. Reid, R. Leahy; W. Walsh, B. Ryan, G. Aylward.
Subs for Kilkenny:
L. Blanchfield for W. Walsh (inj 18); R. Hogan for R. Leahy, C. Fennelly for B. Ryan (both h-t); R. Lennon for E.Morrissey (48); L. Scanlon for J. Donnelly (62).
J. Owens (Wexford).