Kilkenny 1-26 Galway 0-22: Death, taxes and strong second-half performances from Kilkenny, each as inevitable as the other and all utterly impossible to repel.
Twice in a matter of just months now, and both in Croke Park finals, Galway have found themselves in the position of executioner, poised above Kilkenny’s jutting neck with blade in hand.
They led Kilkenny by three points at half-time in last year’s All-Ireland final and by the same margin at the same stage again yesterday.
Displaying a miserliness in defence and an efficiency in attack, Galway left Kilkenny supporters privately considering if there may have been a ring of truth to Ger Loughnane’s recent criticism of the team.
But enjoying a strong start against Kilkenny and actually capitalising on it in the second-half are two entirely different tasks, as Galway were once again reminded. In the end, they simply couldn’t lower that blade on Kilkenny and the Cats discovered another escape route for themselves just like they did in similar circumstances against Dublin last month.
It was just 10 minutes into the second-half when the scores were levelled up and with the momentum all Kilkenny’s, they pushed on from there pretty much as everyone expected for a 71st Leinster title, the 15th of the Brian Cody era.
Afterwards, Cody was entirely nonchalant about it all, displaying about as much interest in the capture of another piece of silverware as he might a choice between lamb or chicken for his supper.
Asked about the significance of that 15th title, he responded that he hadn’t a clue if that was indeed the correct number. “I’ve no idea to be honest,” he said, deadpan.
One imagines there was a greater urgency to his voice at half-time as Kilkenny found themselves 0-13 to 0-10 down and lacking vital craft to counteract Galway’s counter attacking strategy.
In that half, they scored just five points from open play and went from the 15th minute to deep into injury-time without delivering a point from play. TJ Reid was being well held on the edge of the square and the wheels of a maroon revolution were slowly turning.
Looking on, Richie Hogan must have felt like a coiled spring as the release of energy and enthusiasm from him when he was introduced for the second-half was quite incredible. There was the anticipated rise in performance from Kilkenny generally after the restart but Hogan operated at a level above the rest around the half-forward line.
His first touch came within seconds out on the right wing beneath the Hogan Stand and resulted in a point that narrowed the gap to just two points. The Danesfort dynamo punched the air in delight and the revival was on.
Minutes later, Kilkenny were level thanks to Farrell’s goal though, in truth, they had probably already broken Galway’s resolve. They had Jonjo Farrell to thank for the goal, even if its creation following a clever pop pass over the top from Conor Fogarty was more elegant than the low, scuffed finish that followed and flew through Colm Callanan’s legs.
Farrell has now returned tallies of 1-5 and 1-4 since making his Championship debut against Dublin and is on target to mirror the achievement of Ger Aylward who won an AllStar in his debut season in 2015.
There’s a long road to travel yet, of course, but it’s feeling pretty familiar as Kilkenny prepare for another All-Ireland semi-final.
Loughnane claimed that they’re too reliant on TJ Reid and Hogan and aren’t, in his eyes, the sort of team that should be winning three All-Irelands in a row.
Certainly, Reid and Hogan were key figures, contributing 0-15 and combining menacingly in that vital period of the game in the third quarter when they blew Galway’s shaky house down.
But others were superb too. Fogarty has long since been heralded the best kept secret in Kilkenny’s team. Maybe that’s because he plays alongside Michael Fennelly but Fogarty outshone his midfielder partner yesterday.
Fennelly improved as the game wore on while Cillian Buckley was excellent at wing-back, making some crucial blocks and delivering some sumptuous forward passes.
Eoin Larkin’s lack of form continues to be a problem for Kilkenny. He has come off in two games running now, empty handed. Hogan replaced him and, presuming his broken hand is fully healed, will start the semi-final while John Power gave a decent pitch for retention too after replacing the ineffective Colin Fennelly.
A penny for the Galway players’ thoughts this morning. They won’t need reminding that they ditched Anthony Cunningham after coming up four points short of Kilkenny last September. There has been no appreciable improvement from them under new boss Micheal Donoghue.
Cunningham guaranteed after last year’s final defeat to Kilkenny that the teams would meet again, further down the line. It’s a possibility but do the players really want to? It’s a question they need to answer emphatically in the coming weeks and months.
Scorers for Kilkenny:
TJ Reid (0-10, 7 frees, 1 ‘65’); J. Farrell (1-4); R. Hogan (0-5); C. Fogarty (0-3); W. Walsh (0-2); J. Power, M. Fennelly (0-1).
Scorers for Galway:
J. Canning (0-6, 6 frees); C. Mannion (0-5); C. Cooney, C. Whelan (0-3); J. Cooney (0-2); D. Glennon, C. Donnellan, A. Smith (0-1).
E. Murphy; P. Murphy, J. Holden, R. Lennon; P. Walsh, K. Joyce, C. Buckley; C. Fogarty, M. Fennelly; W. Walsh, C. Fennelly, L. Ryan (c); J. Farrell, TJ Reid, E. Larkin.
R. Hogan for Larkin h/t; J. Power for Fennelly (h/t).
C. Callanan; P. Mannion, Daithi Burke, J. Coen; G. McInerney, J. Hanbury, A. Harte; David Burke (c), D. Glennon; N. Burke, J. Cooney, C. Cooney; C. Whelan, J. Canning, C. Mannion.
C. Donnellan for J. Cooney (46); F. Moore for Coen (53); J. Flynn for N. Burke (57); A. Smith for Glennon (59); P. Killeen for Hanbury (66).
F. Horgan (Tipperary).
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