By now It’s almost as if the Leinster final never happened, a mere figment of everyone’s imagination. On the day Galway produced the shock of the decade with a superb ten point win, but it was the manner of their victory that was most surprising. For long periods Kilkenny were simply out hurled and the game was effectively over at half-time.
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The aura of invincibility that has surrounded Brian Cody’s team was severely dented but ultimately not dismantled. They have recovered well subsequently and recorded comfortable victories over Limerick and most notably Tipperary in last month’s semi-final. Declan Ryan’s charges were certainly below par on the day but Kilkenny’s second half display was extremely impressive and they were typically ruthless when they sensed weakness in the Tipperary defence.
They are hot favourites to prevail on Sunday and with the class and experience they possess plus their insatiable hunger they deserve to be. But this Galway team has no fear of Kilkenny and psychologically that is massive. In the past so many teams have wilted when confronted with the sight of the black and amber jersey, beaten before a ball was even pucked, playing to contain Kilkenny instead of confronting the challenge head on and taking the game to them.
Obviously it’s easy to say but Galway proved in the Leinster final that with the right mental attitude, tactical approach and physical aggression even a great team can be knocked off stride and opened up at the back. Can it be done twice in the same season? That is the big question. Brian Cody certainly has a better deck to deal from now with star performers JJ Delaney and Michael Fennelly available once again, while TJ Reid and Aidan Fogarty have returned to top form.
The opening twenty minutes will be very physical and it is vital that Galway survive the storm that Kilkenny will inevitably bring. The element of surprise that existed on Leinster final day has vanished and they must remain within touching distance during this opening period. The concession of early goals must be avoided at all costs, coming from behind is simply not an option and tactically would be disastrous, as if ahead Kilkenny can retreat to a more defensive formation and play counter attack hurling.
Anthony Cunningham and his backroom team have already proved they are very astute and they will be well aware of what performance targets their players must achieve to emerge victorious. Swarm defence, disciplined tackling, forcing turnovers and then moving the ball quickly to areas of space where the forwards can use their speed to turn the opposition defence.
In the previous clash the tactic of crowding the middle third worked extremely well with Damien Hayes running riot early on with sum brilliant driving runs. Brian Cody will no doubt have identified Hayes as a key figure and they will go all out to curtail his influence on proceedings.
The big match up on everyone’s mind is that of Joe Canning and JJ Delaney. The level of performance that Canning delivers could ultimately decide the game and if he is curtailed then Galway could wilt very quickly. Delaney’s class is unquestioned but he has arguably never faced a forward with so much class in such red hot form. It should be enthralling viewing.
There are so many different factors that will have a major bearing on the final outcome but ultimately goals will be the key. If Galway avoid the concession of early goals and get one or two themselves then it’s game on, if the opposite is the case then it could be game over very quickly. Any upper hand that can be gained mentally by either side will be crucial.
Kilkenny deserve to be favourites due to their undoubted talent, experience of and record in finals and the amazing level of hunger that they still possess. A victory is certainly not beyond the Tribesmen and would not represent a shock but Brian Cody’s men might just have enough to hold them off. An epic battle awaits.