BY NIALL SHERRY
PHOTOS BY INPHO
Salthill defeat in the past, as Bob comes home
AIB Leinster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final
Croke Park Saturday June 4th
Galway 0-17 Kilkenny 0-22
The Bob O’Keefe Cup is back on Noreside for a third year in a row, after Kilkenny defeated Galway by 5 points to claim a 74th Leinster title in Croke Park. It certainly wasn’t a classic, but the result was always going to be more important than the performance, given how the Cats came out on the wrong end of the round robin clash in Salthill last month.
This provincial final appeared to be a real arm wrestle, a test of strength and defensive solidity, as opposed to a free-flowing game of hurling, where classy forwards stole the show. Given the action that had preceded this provincial decider, it was always going to be a big ask to replicate the Antrim and Kerry game.
Galway won the toss and opted to play against the wind in the opening period. Kilkenny would hit two wides from out the pitch, the second one from TJ Reid, which many would have put their house on the Shamrocks man nailing. The first score of the game would come from those in maroon, with Conor Whelan slotting a beautiful point over from near the sideline in the second minute. Brian Cody’s men soon levelled matters after TJ found Richie Leahy with a lovely pass and the Rower Inistioge man split the posts from a central position.
Paddy Deegan then used the wind to his advantage as he struck a mighty score off his left side from distance to edge his team ahead. Mossy Keoghan was then fouled by Jack Grealish and TJ opened his account for the day. The Tribesmen then fashioned their first goal scoring chance of the game. Sarsfields Joseph Cooney somehow managed to break through the Cats defence, but in doing so he lost his Hurl and had to kick his effort, Glenmore’s Eoin Murphy batted Cooney’s effort away to keep his net intact.
This miss was then punished by Kilkenny, as they worked the sliotar to Adrian Mullen, who rifled over a fine point. Shefflin’s men then worked another goal chance. On this occasion, Josephy Cooney moved the ball to Brian Concannon, but the Kilmordaly man’s shot was dealt with brilliantly by Eoin Murphy.
Both sides exchanged frees, with Adrian Mullen receiving a yellow card for a high tackle on his opponent. You could sense the physical edge, like two gladiators seeking to be the last man standing. The battle between Huw Lawlor and Conor Whelan was one of the most exciting on show, no quarter was being given by either party. Whelan then got the better of the O’Loughlin’s man in the next duel.
The Talented Kinvara forward isolated the Cats full-back before twisting left, then right and then executing a lovely score. Ballyhale’s Adrian Mullen then got his second score of the game with a nice long-range effort to make it Kilkenny 0-6 to Galway’s 0-3 with about 12 minutes played. Billy Ryan then found some space, but the pass to him was over hit. The Graigue-Ballycallan man did well to collect the sliotar before taking a nice point.
Referee James Owens then booked the Village’s Cian Kenny for a foul, Cooner Cooney scored from the free awarded. O’Loughlin’s Paddy Deegan then showed once again his ability to strike from distance as he judged the accompanying wind to perfection to land his second sighter of the day. St Thomas’s Conor Cooney then struck over an unbelievable sideline cut to reduce the Connacht side’s arrears to 3 points. Tom Monaghan who had caused the Kilkenny defence all sorts of problems when the sides last met, then stepped on the gas and punched a hole in the Cats rearguard, before been halted illegally. Conor Cooney converted the placed ball.
Galway keeper Eanna Murphy then managed to scramble away Eoin Cody’s flick-on, after a high ball into the westerners defence had caused alarm. Play became a little scrappy then, as both sides wasted some half decent scoring opportunities. Just two points separated these rivals, and things began to get a little heated.
Joseph Cooney came in high and caught Kilkenny captain Richie Reid with a shoulder to the chest, which flattened the Shamrocks man, but it was Cianan Fahy’s apparent stamp on Reid that enraged his teammates and those who had spotted it from the stands. Cooney got a yellow from referee Owens, but Fahy walked away clean as a whistle.
When things calmed down a little and Richie Reid was restored to full health, play resumed. TJ then hit a free which was drifting away as it reached the posts. The umpires were unsure, so they called for assistance from Hawk-Eye. Much to the delight of the travelling Galway support, the big screen informed one and all that ‘Hawkeye data is unavailable’. Ironic cheers came from those in attendance from the west. To compound matters, the ‘stamper’ Fahy then got past Tommy Walsh and popped the ball over the bar, to leave just the narrowest of margins between the finalists.
Mikey Butler then battled hard to win a free, which TJ pointed. The O’Loughlin’s defender was temporarily replaced by Conor Delaney as he was attended to by the Kilkenny medical team. Eoin Cody who had looked lively throughout the first half went on a lovely run before finding Mossy, who applied the finishing touch to a great move.
TJ Reid and Conor Cooney swapped scores before Shefflin’s charges created another chance to raise a green flag. Conor Whelan on the angle, struck a fierce shot which Eoin Murphy did well to batt away for a ‘65, which C. Cooney converted. That would be the final score of the opening period, as the sides headed to the changing rooms with the Cats leading by 2, Galway 0-9, Kilkenny 0-11. Most pleasing for Brian Cody will have been the fact that seven of his sides eleven 1st half points came from turnovers. There was definitely a harder edge to this Noreside XV.
As the sides emerged from the Croker changing rooms, Brian Cody had chosen to replace Cian Kenny with Conor Browne. Like the first half, the second started swiftly. TJ hit a magnificent free into the wind and it just had enough legs to drop over the bar. Fintan Burke then found Conor Whelan who had an easy chance to add to his tally. The same player got the next point shortly after, having won another tussle with Huw Lawlor.
Adrian Mullen, who has looked totally rejuvenated since dropping into a deeper lying midfield role, then fired over a cracking score, his third of the day. His Ballyhale buddy, TJ then sent over another incredible free, despite the best efforts of the wind to deny him. Galway hit back with a point from Fintan Burke, before Eoin Muphy was once again called into action. A free from Conor Cooney struck the post and was collected by Whelan. The Kinvara man struck his shot into the ground, and when the sliotar bounced up off the Croke Park turf, the Cats net minder batted it before for a ‘65, which Cooney pointed from.
Kilkenny then sent on Walter from Richie Leahy, while Galway replaced Tom Monaghan with Jason Flynn. Mossy Keoghan was then fouled out under the Hogan Stand. TJ struck the free majestically between the Galway posts. Then on 51 minutes, the placed ball maestro fired another one over to restore the Cats 3-point lead. Conor Whelan then won the ball ahead of Lawlor and managed to feed the ball to the on-running Fahy, who shortened his stick and batted his shot over the bar.
Along with his almost faultless free-taking, TJ had been taking some wonderful high catches too. His next one almost ended with a goal, as he released the supporting Keoghan, who saw his effort superbly blocked by Daithi Burke, before the rebound was fired into the side-netting. It looked like both Antrim and Kerry had used up all the green flags in the earlier game! The next passage of play saw a free awarded to Kilkenny, TJ – you guessed it, his 9th point of the day.
Conor Cooney then made up for a bad miss when he pointed from the placed ball after Joseph Cooney was adjudged to have been fouled according to James Owens. Henry Shefflin was becoming increasingly animated on the sideline. He knew his team were losing this physical battle. TJ then plucked another sliotar from the Dublin sky, and was fouled by Sarsfields Darren Morrissey. The Shamrocks man is reveling in Croker, he gives a fist pump to the stands. The Galway corner-back would regret that foul, TJ pointed the free.
TJ added another couple of placed balls to push Kilkenny 5 points ahead, the second of which came after good work from the industrious Eoin Cody who won the ball out in front of his man, before being fouled. That’s now 0-12 for TJ.
Galway’s Conor Cooney then fired over another free, to make it a four-point game as 4 minutes of additional time were signaled. The same player was then guilty of a bad miss from his next placed ball effort. The Tribesmen couldn’t afford such misses, certainly not on a day when TJ was giving a free-taking masterclass. Padraic Mannion then pointed from way out the park, given the score line and time remaining, I think the defender intentions were to drop the free in and around the house, in the hope that a goal might be nicked.
The Cats led by 3, but this soon became five, as injury time scores from sub-Padraig Walsh and the impressive Adrian Mullen ensured there would be no late, late show this time from Henry’s men.
Full-time at Croker, Galway 0-17, Kilkenny 0-22.
Scorers for Galway: C. Cooney (0-7, 3 frees, 2 65s, 1 sideline); C. Whelan (0-4); C. Fahy (0-2); J. Cooney, F. Burke, P. Mannion (free) (0-1 each).
GALWAY: Éanna Murphy; D. Morrissey, Daithí Burke (c), J. Grealish; P. Mannion, G. McInerney, F. Burke; T. Monaghan, J. Coen; C. Fahy, C. Cooney, J. Cooney; C. Mannion; C. Whelan, B. Concannon.
Subs for Galway: J. Flynn for T. Monaghan (44); R. Glennon for C. Fahy (54); David Burke for J. Coen (61); G. Lee for B. Concannon (70+1).
Scorers for Kilkenny: T.J. Reid (0-12, 11 frees, 1 65); A. Mullen (0-4); P. Deegan (0-2); R. Leahy, B. Ryan, M. Keoghan, P. Walsh (0-1 each).
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; T. Walsh, H. Lawlor; M. Butler; M. Carey, R. Reid, P. Deegan; C. Fogarty, C. Kenny; A. Mullen, B. Ryan, R. Leahy; T.J. Reid, M. Keoghan, E. Cody.
Subs for Kilkenny: W. Walsh for B. Ryan (temp 28-30); C. Delaney for M. Butler (temp 29-35+1); C. Browne for C. Kenny (h-t); W. Walsh for R. Leahy (45); P. Walsh for B. Ryan (54); J. Donnelly for M. Keoghan (60).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)
>> SHERRY SAYS…..
Bob O’Keefe, we’ve been expecting you. Bob has been a frequent and welcome visitor on Noreside. This is the 74th time that Bob has been welcomed to the Marble County, and the third year in succession that he will spend the winter here.
After that sickening defeat in Salthill, one always felt that Brian Cody would want to engineer a different outcome should the sides meet again. And this he did. This Cats display was one of guts, attitude, resilience and courage. The panel believed in the plan and executed it perfectly. Will this game be remembered as a classic? No. But as I say, it was all about the result, and who would be crowned Leinster Champions on a breezy Saturday night in the Capital.
The Cats had some great performances across the park. No.1, Eoin Murphy, reminding us all yet again of why he’s the best in the business. Galway’s inability to raise a green flag can be clearly laid at the Glenmore man’s door, or net, or goal line.
TJ Reid – in many people’s eye’s MOTM, his free taking, his picking sliotar’s out of the Croke Park air and all-round display reminded all the doubters that class is permanent, form is temporary.
Sticking with Ballyhale, both Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen had great games. While Mullen’s performance will have been documented by the scoring stats, Eoin’s work all over the Croke Park pitch, and his ability to take more than one man with him as he roamed, created space for others.
Mikey Butler was actually named MOTM by the official broadcaster on the day, his all-action, battling, dynamic display was further proof if any was needed that Brian Cody has unearthed a real defensive gem in the O’Loughlin’s man.
There’s no doubt that Conor Fogarty’s inclusion in the middle third added some much-needed physical presence to the Cats midfield and he certainly complimented and dove-tailed well with Adrian Mullen.
Brian Cody’s men only conceded 6 points in the last 30 minutes of action, and only one of those came from play. Every single one of those in black & amber stood up and were not found wanting when the going got tough. Huw Lawlor’s battle with Conor Whelan was tremendous throughout. The O’Loughlin’s full-back, won’t face many more talented forwards than the Kinvara man.
A word on referee James Owens. Like many officials, he probably doesn’t appear on too many people’s Christmas card lists. Richie Reid will have felt the high shoulder challenge to his chest from Joseph Cooney, but I wouldn’t imagine the captain will have been expecting Cianan Fahy to have put his boot where he did, when he was on the ground. Sometimes the ref need help, be it from his linesmen or 4th official.
So, an All-Ireland semi-final now awaits the Cats later this summer. Brian Cody has delivered an 18th Leinster title of his long and successful reign.
Welcome back Bob. Enjoy your stay.