KILKENNY 0-22 GALWAY 0-17
Kevin Egan & Ben O’Keeffe at Croke Park
The wide open spaces of Croke Park felt like they were nowhere to be seen for the forwards of Kilkenny and Galway this evening, as a contest that was all about defensive strength and relentless, intense marking saw Kilkenny prevail to win their 74th Leinster title, and their third in succession.
From a position where the contest seemed impossible to call with just over five minutes gone in the second half, Kilkenny leading by two but hurling into a very strong breeze, the Cats delivered a masterclass in defensive play for the next half an hour, conceding just six points, and one from play.
While the strength of Galway’s defensive work ensured that the contest was never full settled until Pádraig Walsh’s insurance point in the fourth minute of stoppage time, there was never a stage when Galway looked capable of going on a run of scores, as they needed to reel in the Marble County men.
Galway’s decision to choose to play into the wind in the first half followed the accepted wisdom, which dictates that most games take some time to settle down, and so the side playing with the wind in the opening stages can struggle to exploit their advantage properly until ten or fifteen minutes had passed.
Whatever their thinking, it didn’t work out that way here, as Kilkenny were quick out of the traps, but instead failed to build on that lead. The second quarter was by far the best spell for the Connacht county as Galway succeeded in both slowing the game down, and picking off some vital and impressive scores to stay hot on the heels of the Cats.
Conor Whelan opened the scoring with a majestic strike from out on the Hogan Stand sideline, but Kilkenny’s reply was exemplary as Richie Leahy, Paddy Deegan and Adrian Mullen all struck excellent points from play, either side of TJ Reid’s first free of the game.
A quick exchange of frees left it 0-5 to 0-2 after ten minutes, followed by another outstanding Whelan point, then scores from Mullen and Billy Ryan. Ten points on the board in the first 12 minutes suggested a high-scoring encounter would follow, but instead it was half-time before that tally was to double.
By far the biggest single factor in that was the control Galway exerted in their own full-back line, where Jack Grealish and Daithí Burke in particular seemed to win every ball that came their way, forcing Kilkenny to either shoot from distance, or to try and work a pass into a very congested area, with their inside men struggling to get any separation.
So, shooting from distance it was, and while there were some high quality scores, none better than one from Cianán Fahy after he did incredibly well to keep the ball in play on the left hand sideline, it meant the scoreboard crawled rather than whirred, and 0-11 to 0-9 at half-time looked like an inadequate Kilkenny lead, given the strength of the breeze.
A TJ Reid free stretched that in the first attack of the second half, but two Conor Whelan points suggested that Galway were about to mount a surge.
It never came, as Huw Lawlor and Whelan went on to play out a ferocious battle, while the rest of the Galway attack never got into the game.
TJ Reid’s freetaking was immaculate, regardless of angle or distance, and while the lead bounced between two and three points for most of the half, it felt significant when on the hour mark, he popped over one from the right wing after earning it himself with a soaring catch, his own reaction and that of the crowd making it clear that they understood its significance.
With the next Galway attack, man of the match Mikey Butler made an equally impressive catch in his own full back line to repel a Galway attack, and less than two minutes later, a 65 from Reid made it 0-19 to 0-15 and a goal looked necessary for that lead to be reeled in within the time.
It wasn’t a night when that looked likely, and while a long-range free from Pádraic Mannion cut the gap back to three with 90 seconds left, the momentum was all going Kilkenny’s way at this stage, and late scores from Pádraig Walsh and Adrian Mullen stretched the final margin out to a level that was a more accurate reflection of the champions’ supremacy over the course of the contest.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-12 (0-11f, 0-1 65), Adrian Mullen 0-4, Paddy Deegan 0-2, Richie Leahy 0-1, Martin Keoghan 0-1, Billy Ryan 0-1, Pádraig Walsh 0-1.
Scorers for Galway: Conor Cooney 0-9 (0-5f, 0-2 65s, 0-1 sideline), Conor Whelan 0-4, Cianán Fahy 0-2, Fintan Burke 0-1, Pádraic Mannion.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler; Mikey Carey, Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan; Cian Kenny, Conor Fogarty; Billy Ryan, Adrian Mullen, Richie Leahy; Eoin Cody, TJ Reid, Martin Keoghan.
Subs: Walter Walsh for Ryan (27-29, temp), Conor Delaney for Butler (29 – half-time, temp), Conor Browne for Kenny (half-time), Walter Walsh for Leahy (45), Pádraig Walsh for Ryan (53), John Donnelly for Keoghan (60)
Galway: Éanna Murphy; Darren Morrissey, Daithí Burke, Jack Grealish; Pádraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Fintan Burke; Tom Monaghan, Johnny Coen; Cianán Fahy, Conor Cooney, Joseph Cooney; Cathal Mannion, Conor Whelan, Brian Concannon.
Subs: Jason Flynn for Monaghan (half-time), Ronan Glennon for Fahy (54), David Burke for Coen (60), Gavin Lee for Concannon (70).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)