BY NIALL SHERRY
PHOTOS BY INPHO
Provincial crown up for grabs as master meets the apprentice
AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final
Saturday, June 4th Croke Park, 7pm
Galway vs Kilkenny
This could be huge. This could be epic. This is Shefflin vs Cody. This is Galway vs Kilkenny.
Supporters from both counties will descend on the capital tomorrow evening for what is sure to be a right battle. When the sides met on the first weekend of May in Salthill, there was just the 1 point between them at the final whistle. There is nothing to suggest that the next encounter will be any different, but let’s hope the outcome is.
Galway and Kilkenny arrive at headquarters on the back of two very different results. The Tribesmen were 6-point winners over Mattie Kenny’s Dublin team, while the Cats suffered a home defeat to Darragh Eagan’s Wexford. Despite the loss to the Model County, Brian Cody’s charges still qualified for tomorrow’s Leinster decider, but will know that they cannot afford a repeat of that UPMC Nowlan Park performance, if they are to stand any chance of lifting a 74th Bob O’Keefe Cup in Drumcondra on Saturday night.
Since the embarrassing defeat to the Yellowbellies, a few home truths will have been spoken and many minutes racked up on the training pitches as the management team look to carve out an advantage as they seek to gain revenge on Henry’s men following that controversial defeat in Salthill. Controversial? Yes, that’s right. I’m still not happy at Colm Lyon’s decision to award that free against O’Loughlin’s Paddy Deegan, right at the death.
One of the things we learned from the defeat to tomorrow’s opponents, is that Conor Cooney will not pass up many opportunities from the placed ball, so those in stripes be warned – no silly fouls please! The St Thomas’s man, who is now second only to the legendary Joe Canning in championship scoring history for Galway, hit 0-13 in his latest outing against the Dubs.
While TJ may only have seen one half of action in Salthill, I think it’s safe to say he’ll get a few more minutes on the clock at Croker. The battle of the free-takers will again be crucial, and in Conor Cooney and TJ, we will witness two of the best around. Should Alan Murphy keep his starting spot, this may well prove useful to the Noresiders, as the Glenmore man has been very reliable when tasked with placed ball duty. Not only that, but Alan also brings a different kind of physicality to the table. It is clear that Kilkenny will need to win the physical battle, in order to earn the right to play the game on their terms tomorrow.
One Kilkenny man that will look to continue a decent run of form is Ballyhale’s Adrian Mullen. Deployed in a deeper lying role recently, Mullen has shown a great ability to pick-off scores from distance and deliver quality ball to the inside forward line. This will be vitally important to the Cats cause in the provincial decider, as Galway’s defence will look to shackle the black and amber threat closely.
Mullen’s Shamrocks club mate, Eoin Cody knows all about that kind of shackling, as the westerners tried a number of markers on him last time, before Padraic Mannion stifled the twice Young Hurler of the Year’s influence on the game. Mind you, Eoin Cody finished with 1-2 that day. The Carlow IT man was unusually quiet in Nowlan Park last week, and failed to raise a flag of any description in the defeat to Wexford. I would imagine that Cody will relish the big open spaces of Croke Park, and this will allow the diminutive attacker freedom to hopefully wreak havoc in the Galway rearguard.
The other members of Kilkenny’s forward line will need to step up in tomorrow’s final. It will be interesting to see who gets the starting jerseys in the attacking third. Martin Keoghan only got a few minutes against Galway last time out, but he has been a hugely reliable goal-getter for the Noresiders this season. Perhaps the boss would prefer to spring Mossy from the bench in the 2nd half, and use his undoubted energy when defenders are tiring.
It was a surprise to many that Padraig Walsh was benched for the Cats last outing against Wexford. The classy Tullaroan man has been in sensational form while wearing the No.11 jersey this year. He’s always good for a couple of points, especially from long-range, and given the likelihood of a packed Galway defence, shooters from distance might be a good weapon in the Kilkenny arsenal. Unless he’s injured, Padraig Walsh WILL start tomorrow.
Talking of Walsh’s, Walter will be looking forward to another crack at those in Maroon. The Tulloger-Rosbercon man hit 0-3 in Salthill, and one can see his aerial ability and lung-bursting runs being of major importance to the Cats, especially if we try to work the sliotar through the lines at headquarters.
Graigue-Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan is another player that will hope to be recalled to the starting XV. Some feel the pacey forward has been a victim of the manager’s desire to get the ball from back to front in the shortest time possible, or to put it another way, dropping long balls into the opponents defence. Whichever way you look at it, Billy possesses a turn of pace and scoring threat to trouble most defenders.
Talking of troubling defenders, Craughwell’s Tom Monaghan did exactly that in Salthill. His powerful runs from the midfield area caused untold problems for Kilkenny and he went on to notch 0-3 that day. He is definitely a player that Brian Cody will need to have a plan for in the final, as curbing his influence could be key. One Galway man that thoroughly enjoyed his last outing against the Cats was Kilmordaly man, Brian Concannon. The bustling forward was a nuisance throughout and finished the day with 0-4 to his name. Let’s hope Huw Lawlor is restored to the full-back line for this fixture.
The other Cooney, Joseph, matched Concannon’s personal tally in the Salthill showdown. The Cats half-back line will need to ensure he is well-marshalled. Will the half-back line be Mikey Carey, Richie Reid and Paddy Deegan? This year’s captain, Richie Reid didn’t feature in round-robin clash between the sides. Despite the Wexford result, I’d probably opt for this trio at 5,6, and 7.
As mentioned earlier, the extra bit of rest will hopefully see O’Loughlin’s Huw Lawlor return to duty at the edge of the square. I think we can safely say his club mate, Mikey Butler is nailed on to start in the corner beside him, having more than acquitted himself in the inter-county scene to date this season. Butler is like a terrier, and his battling qualities will be needed in the capital tomorrow night.
Henry Shefflin has carefully managed the re-integration of key-man Conor Whelan to his side. Whelan struck 0-5 from play against the Dubs, and will demand special attention in the provincial decider, as when on form, he can be simply devastating.
At the time of writing, it isn’t known if late injuries suffered to former captains, David Burke and Padraic Mannion will prevent either from starting the final, but both men will be crucial to Henry’s game plan for the Cats.
It is the responsibility of Brian Cody and his management team to ensure that their plan trumps that of Shefflin. Noreside expects.
>> SHERRY SAYS…..
Let me get this off my chest.
I think it’s only right to mention the throw-in time – 7pm on a Saturday night in Dublin. This certainly puts a huge pressure on Gaels looking to attend their provincial final. It could be almost midnight before you make it back home, and that isn’t easy when you have a car full of kid’s intent on seeing their idols play on the field of dreams.
Fancy staying over in the capital? Have you seen the prices of hotel rooms in Dublin? Surely the powers that be could have scheduled the Joe McDonagh Cup final for 1pm then have the Leinster showpiece on 3:30 or 4pm? You’d wonder who makes these decisions.
Anyway, sorry about that rant. Let’s talk turkey. So, its round two of Galway vs Kilkenny with the two current managers at their respective helms.
I think it’s fair to say we owe the Tribesmen one for that 1-point defeat in Salthill. Don’t start me on that injury time free.
This contest could give us one of the games of the season. All the plots, sub-plots etc., mean that everyone is keenly awaiting the throw-in.
The stage is set for Eoin Cody to deliver. Should the Shamrocks sharp-shooter be on form, this could well propel the Cats to a 74th Leinster title.
Let’s hope Wexford’s James Owen’s allows the game to flow, allows the fair hits to be given and taken.
Lifting Bob O’Keefe tomorrow is the best way to secure an All-Ireland semi-final berth. The direct route is always the best. We demand that Kilkenny are the best provincially tomorrow night. Let’s make it horrid for Henry.