BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Shefflin & Lyng eye Leinster glory
>>SHERRY SAYS BIG MATCH PREVIEW
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final
Kilkenny vs Galway
Croke Park, Sunday 4pm.
(Referee Sean Stack, Dublin)
Here we go…. another provincial final for the Cats. Derek Lyng takes his panel to Croker on Sunday hoping to secure a 75th Bob O’Keefe Cup knowing that a formidable opponent in Galway will be out to get one over on Kilkenny and if their round robin game was anything to go by, we are in for another helter-skelter encounter.
Both sides will arrive in the Capital hoping for victory and confident in their own ability and one would imagine that there won’t be much between these sides when the long whistle sounds on Sunday evening at Croker. Shefflin and Lyng know that the provincial crown is merely another step on the journey to what both managers will hope leads to a serious crack at the all-conquering Limerick juggernaut.
The provincial campaign for Sunday’s finalists has been quite similar. Galway rock up to headquarters unbeaten during the group stages. Three wins and two draws from their five games means that Henry Shefflin’s charges are in decent health ahead of the Leinster decider. The Tribesmen were the top scorers and had the best defensive record in the province and will be keen to secure the silverware to reward their championship endeavors to date.
Three wins over Wexford, Westmeath and Antrim were augmented with draws against the Cats and Dublin as Henry’s men topped the group with Sunday’s opponents just one-point behind in second place. Kilkenny’s defeat to Wexford last day out in that crazy game confirmed the Noresiders position in the group.
The Westerners have secured three O’Keefe Cups since they joined the ranks in Leinster back in 2009. Prior to this the men in maroon had racked up 25 Connacht titles but their relocation to the East has undoubtably been a huge driving force in Hurling within the county. With Henry Shefflin at the helm, Galway will be hoping to secure Leinster title number four this weekend.
The attacking threat from both sides is clear for all to see. Indeed, two out of the top 3 scorers in the provincial championship will be plying their trade on Sunday. TJ Reid sits in 2nd place in the Leinster scoring stakes, just 3 points ahead of Galway’s Evan Niland, both will have Dublin’s Donal Burke in their sights this weekend as the current top scorer could certainly be pegged back by one or both of the deciders top marksmen.
Eoin Cody comes into the weekend’s final having gone goal crazy in that topsy-turvy game at Chadwicks Wexford Park. The current captain will be hoping to light up Croker with some more majors against Galway, and depending on the fitness of others, the Shamrocks Ballyhale man may need to shoulder more of the scoring burden on Sunday. The defeat to the Yellowbellies could yet prove more costly than the points dropped as three men in black and amber exited the field before the short whistle.
Reigning Young Hurler of the Year Mikey Butler left Slaneyside on crutches with a reputed calf injury while Tullaroan’s Mossy Keoghan limped off with a hamstring issue. With a bit of luck and extra time on the treatment table there’s a chance that both these players may feature in the decider on Sunday.
The biggest concern for Derek Lyng and his management team will be the nasty thumb injury suffered by former captain and current All-Star Adrian Mullen. The Shamrocks man was taken straight to hospital in Waterford for further treatment and assessment and will face a race against time to feature again for the Cats in this hugely condensed season. Mullen is a crucial cog in the Kilkenny machine and his ability and game intelligence will be sorely missed while he’s out of the team.
Richie Reid and Paddy Deegan also missed the Wexford game with injuries and the manager will hope to have both these powerhouses available as Sunday’s game will require significant impact from the bench to tilt the game in favour of the eventual winner. Billy Drennan’s return to fitness has been a timely boost to the county and the young Galmoy man could certainly provide a spark to ignite Kilkenny’s bid for 4-in-a-row Leinster titles.
Galway has plenty of quality in all areas of the pitch to rival those in black and amber. Killimordaly’s Brian Concannon is normally the focal point at the edge of the square, and will no doubt relish his potential battle with O’Loughlin’s Huw Lawlor. Concannon has hit 2-10 in the provincial campaign to date and will be keen to add to his tally in Croker. Conor Whelan is another potent weapon for the Tribesmen and has hit five majors in Leinster this season.
Standing between the sticks will be Eanna Murphy. The Tommy Larkins player has been a permanent fixture for the Westerners over the last few seasons and is one of the best keepers around. Captained from centre-back by Daithí Burke, the Tribesmen have a strong and potent half-back line that will look to dictate matters and set the tempo for those further up the pitch. Normally Burke has Padraic Mannion and Joseph Cooney flanking him. This line in the Galway team is a lovely blend of strength and skill.
Derek Lyng will no doubt have been impressed with the development of some of his panel this year. The likes of David Blanchfield and Tom Phelan have really blossomed through this year’s competitions. Lyng also appears to have secured the services of Young Ireland’s Mikey Carey who had originally opted out of this season due to his travelling plans. How quickly Carey can get up to match speed will be the real test, but having him as an option, even from the bench given the current injury situation.
It’s hard to know what XV is going to be selected by Derek Lyng and his backroom team at the time of writing. There are so many variables due to player availability. As Adrian Mullen had been deployed in midfield, it will be interesting to see what pairing gets the nod for Sunday. Given the undoubted physical nature that this final is going to throw up, you would really want the likes of Paddy Deegan involved. The O’Loughlin’s man’s swashbuckling style is well suited to Henry’s Galway and I for one really want Deegan involved this weekend.
We don’t have too much longer to wait. Sunday is coming and whichever players run out at Croker will give everything to take Bob O’Keefe back to Noreside. Like we said earlier, this is just another step on what we hope is a much bigger journey.