Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final
Galway v Kilkenny, Croke Park, 7pm – RTE2
The most obvious reference point when analysing Saturday’s Leinster SHC Final is the thunderous match both teams contested five weeks ago.
Galway eventually won by the slimmest of margins and it was a just about deserved victory too, but Kilkenny could count themselves unfortunate also not have at least claimed a draw.
Both teams will have pored over the video footage of that match since in search of any lessons that will prove valuable for this re-match, because the margins are likely to be very fine again.
Kilkenny will feel that Croke Park will make for a more hospitable venue that Salthill which is always a very tough place to go and get a result against the Tribesmen.
The Cats are trying to refine a shorter-passing game than you’d traditionally associate with them, and it came unstuck quite a bit against the aggressive pressing and defending of the Galway players in Salthill.
The wider expanses of Croke Park and the harder ground and more clement weather five weeks on might make it that bit easier to execute.
A priority for Kilkenny will be to compete better in the middle third than they did in Salthill when the Galway combination of Joseph Cooney and Thomas Monaghan completely eclipsed Cillian Buckley and James Maher.
The Galway duo scored a combined seven points from play in that match and have been carrying a potent scoring threat all year. If they’re allowed to dictate the terms of the game like they did in Salthill, then it’s very much advantage Galway.
A different Kilkenny midfield pairing of Alan Murphy and Adrian Mullen were also second-best in Kilkenny’s defeat to Wexford, so this is clearly an area in which the Cats are struggling to find a settled and effective partnership.
There’s little to pick between the teams in terms of scoring power and defensive solidity. In the round robin phase of the Leinster championship Galway scored 164 points with 110 conceded, while Kilkenny scored 159 points with 108 conceded.
Drill a bit deeper though, and there are some obvious differences with how they attack, with Kilkenny scoring 14 goals to Galway’s seven.
Galway manager Henry Shefflin will definitely feel that as long as they don’t concede more goals than Kilkenny do they’ll win this match because they have better long-distance point-shooters around the middle third than the Cats do.
They’ll also have a fully fit Conor Whelan to call on from the start unlike five weeks ago when he was limited to a second-half substitute’s appearance.
As for Kilkenny, they’ll hope that key players like TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen can perform much better than they did the last day out against Galway.
The form-line slightly favours Galway, but expect this match to be a nail-biter.