Leinster SHC Final
KILKENNY 4-21 GALWAY 2-26
By John Harrington at Croke Park
A Leinster Senior Hurling Championship that had shivered in the shadow of the Munster equivalent burst into life in a sun-dappled Croke Park today.
It had a bit of everything. Scores galore, sumptuous moments of skill, big hits, seat of the pants defending, and then finally an outrageous conclusion to it all.
The Galway players will be feeling bereft. They showed great guts to come from eight points down in the final 20 minutes of normal time to push two ahead in extra-time.
But in a final frantic passage of play when cool heads were needed they failed to clear their lines from the bottom left corner of the pitch with the ball doing a good impression of a hot potato.
Eventually it found its way to Padraic Mannion who was in the unfortunate position of having no hurley in his hands.
He felt the percentage play was to kick the ball down field as far as he possible could, but unfortunately for him and his Galway team-mates it went straight down the throat of Cillian Buckley who did brilliantly to weave his way past a couple of would-be tackles and plant the winning goal to the back of the net.
It was an incredible way to win a provincial title and joins a rich canon of Kilkenny victories chiselled from the face of adversity.
When the final whistle blew Galway players fell to the turf in utter dejection, and your heart went out to one of them in particular – Conor Whelan.
He’d been a force of nature throughout the game, scoring 1-6 from play with most of those scores from the very top drawer.
Thanks in no small part to the Kinvara man, Galway had looked like the sharper team in the opening exchanges, scoring the first three points of the match.
The Tribesmen were 0-5 to 0-1 ahead by the eight minute and looking confident, but then that cats finally showed their claws by scoring the first goal of the game.
Martin Keoghan raced onto a pass from David Blanchfield and then batted a smart finish past the advancing Eanna Murphy in what was a typically clinical finish by the Tullaroan man.
Points followed from TJ Reid, Eoin Cody, Cian Kenny and David Blanchfield and now it was Kilkenny on top, and leading by three points, 1-6 to 0-6.
Such was the nature of this match though that it was inevitable Galway would strike back because both sets of forwards looked like they had the beating of their markers.
On 18 minutes Conor Whelan zoomed onto a pass from Cathal Mannion and emphatically drilled a glorious low shot past Eoin Murphy for the equalising goal.
Now it was Galway with a power surge as Evan Niland landed a monster free from inside his own ’45 and Whelan and Kevin Cooney followed up with two classy points to push their advantage to three points.
It didn’t last long. Six minutes after coming on as a sub Walter Walsh proved he remains a hard man to stop when he’s full flight as did brilliantly to claim a high delivery and then ran 35 yards before firing a ruthless finish low and hard past Éanna Murphy.
For the remainder of the half the action swung this way and that as both teams combined some imaginative attacking play with seat of the pants defending.
By the time the half-time whistle blew both teams had managed three more points and were level, Galway 1-12 Kilkenny 2-9.
The first five minutes of the second-half followed that same over and back pattern, but then Kilkenny were emboldened to take a grip on the game by a sensational Mikie Butler goal.
The corner-back had followed the play down the field and when he took a popped handpass from David Blanchfield had only one thing on his mind as he bore straight down on goal and then finished with elan from a tricky angle.
Most of the play began flowing towards Galway’s goal now, and they were struggling to contain the Kilkenny attack, especially Eoin Cody who was turning the heat up on Padraic Mannion.
When points from him, Walter Walsh, and John Donnelly put the Cats 3-17 to 1-15 ahead after 50 minutes, Galway’s hopes seemed to be fading fast.
They needed a big moment and substitute Jason Flynn provided it, banging home a goal after Whelan did brilliantly to create the opportunity. The lively Evan Niland followed up with a point, and Galway suddenly had momentum again.
Now they were no longer so reliant on Whelan for inspiration, as Brian Concannon, Kevin Cooney, and Niland all began to trouble the Kilkenny defence in the final quarter of the match.
They drew level on 67 minutes when Niland banged over a free and then one from play, and held the whip hand in injury-time as Cooney, Niland, and Concannon slung over three points in quick succession.
But a Kilkenny team is never beaten, and when it really didn’t look likely they somehow found a way to win it with that last-gasp Buckley goal.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-9 (6f), Walter Walsh 1-2, Mikey Butler 1-0, Martin Keoghan 1-0, Cillian Buckley 1-0, Eoin Cody 0-3, Cian Kenny 0-2, John Donnelly 0-2 David Blanchfield 0-1, Padraig Walsh 0-1, Billy Drennan 0-1
Scorers for Galway: Evan Niland 0-12 (8f), Conor Whelan 1-6, Jason Flynn 1-0, Brian Concannon 0-3, Kevin Cooney 0-3, Cathal Mannion 0-1, Joseph Cooney 0-1
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Conor Fogarty, David Blanchfield, Darragh Corcoran; Cian Kenny, Paddy Deegan; Tom Phelan, John Donnelly, Billy Ryan; Martin Keoghan, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody. Subs: Walter Walsh for Martin Keoghan (19), Padraig Walsh for Conor Fogarty (52), Cillian Buckley for Darragh Corcoran (58), Timmy Clifford for Tom Phelan (61), Billy Drennan for Billy Ryan (68)
GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; Jack Grealish, Gearóid McInerney, Darren Morrissey; Padraic Mannion, Daithí Burke, Fintan Burke; Joseph Cooney, Cathal Mannion; Tom Monaghan, Conor Cooney, Kevin Cooney; Conor Whelan, Brian Concannon, Evan Niland. Subs: Jason Flynn for Tom Monaghan (47), Sean Linnane for Conor Cooney (60), TJ Brennan for Darren Morrissey (64)
Ref: Sean Stack (Dublin)