TJ Reid and Joe Canning. One of them came to Croke Park as the Hurler of the Year elect, the other as not even a nailed-on All Star. One of them scored the first goal, which mattered a little, the other the second goal, which mattered not at all.
One of them left Croke Park a winner and still the Hurler of the Year elect, the other a loser and still without an All-Ireland senior medal.
Which of them was the guy who landed three points in the first half and was adamant he’d struck a fourth? Yes, that’s right: Canning. The bottom line rarely tells the whole story.
Ultimately, a bitter irony attended the outcome of an afternoon that had begun with the prospect of Galway winning the All-Ireland and Canning not being Hurler of the Year, an unimaginable scenario a couple of seasons ago.
For all of the good work done by his colleagues over the past six weeks the Tribesmen ended up regressing to the mean when it mattered most and, as the second half wore on, needing the Portumna man to work his magic.
He couldn’t oblige. Indeed it was the 61st minute before he was even sighted in the half, getting intercepted by Kieran Joyce but then drawing a free from Conor Fogarty and, crucially, missing it. Moments later, Colin Fennelly found the range at the other end and Kilkenny were four points to the good. A door had opened slightly, then closed loudly.
Expecting the defending champions to fail to close it out from there was the equivalent of expecting St Peter’s basilica to collapse in the next puff of wind.
As a rule, monuments do not crumble. They’re built too stoutly for that.
Brian Cody does not skimp when it comes to laying down foundations. Bet you any money he can never look at the David Kelly/O’Reilly episode of Fawlty Towers without cringing.
Reid? While it’s more easily done in a better team, naturally, he did here what all the best players do. He made himself relevant.
Now making oneself relevant isn’t the same thing as being a hero. Rather, it means doing the simple thing well and often. As Reid does so effectively, getting on the ball and stitching the play together.
A flick here, a short pass off the stick there, a towering handpass like the one that created a point for Eoin Larkin at the three-quarter stage. The simple thing, over and over again.
Thus from a couple of furlongs out the bottom line was apparent. Old cats, hard road. All that jazz. Y’know, the usual.
He’ll score more difficult goals than the one he managed here, mind. Most of the credit was due to Walter Walsh, who bullocked his way past John Hanbury in the 12th minute before providing the assist.
The finish was academic and marked the fourth successive match this summer that Reid found the net.
None of which is to overlook the worth of Galway’s first-half performance. It had poise, it had power and it had aggression. Not only that, it had the holders on the back foot for most of it.
One incident told a tale; Larkin being penalised for over-carrying on the Hogan Stand side, three Galway players rushing in to take the sliotar from him and, because the mood was on them and because they could, slinging him over the sideline while they were at it.
Almost as an afterthought, Canning knocked over the free and followed it a minute before the interval with a glorious point from 60 metres, not so much driven between the uprights as caressed between them on feathered wings.
A jarring thought intruded. Had Brian Cody, for the first time since the epochal semi-final of 2001, sent out a team to be outhungered, outworked, out-aggressed?
Not a bit of it.
It was not stirring individual heroics or stunning tactical changes that made the difference on the resumption. Instead Kilkenny got every shoulder to the wheel and pushed. As simple and unglamorous as that. Just the way Cody likes it.
They all did their bit and – the crucial part – in the second half they all did a bit more besides. Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley may not quite have burst into the match but they became more prominent. Each of the forwards found the scoresheet.
Walter Walsh fulfilled his role as battering ram with diligence. Larkin, winning his eighth All-Ireland medal, hurled like a young lad in his first final; if he were a fabric he’d be pure satin.
As for Michael Fennelly, as we’ve pointed out here too often to mention, that’s a heck of a big dog to have on the porch.
Playing well in an All-Ireland final is more difficult than it may appear.
Ask Jonathan Glynn and Cathal Mannion, so prolific earlier in the summer but scoreless here. Ask Jason Flynn, who spent the first half finding the Davin End range from what seemed like halfway down Clonliffe Road but was withdrawn before the end.
Playing well in a series of All-Ireland finals? These guys in stripes have elevated it to something not far short of an art form. By the 55th minute, they’d turned a three-point interval deficit into a four-point advantage, a swing of seven points.
It means that only one of their 11 MacCarthy Cup triumphs on Cody’s watch, the first, was a one in a row. Each of the subsequent ten has — please look away now, Tipperary readers — been part of a sequence: 2002-03, 2006-09, 2011-12 and 2014-15. The man doesn’t do things by halves.
Literally. What was that line of the Bard’s about battalions rather than single spies?
And so we continue to live in a land ruled by felines. This year’s top cat? TJ Reid, of course.
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