After a breathless finale last Sunday afternoon, when Galway’s best performance of the season was rewarded with a one-point win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, the Leinster hurling championship has a Super Saturday evening to look forward to this weekend when two matches will remove one team from the All-Ireland race.
Dublin host Galway in Parnell Park at the same time that Kilkenny travel to take on neighbours Wexford (7pm ). The permutations are lengthy to decide who will advance to contest the Leinster final and who will finish in the preliminary quarter final position, but Galway’s dramatic win has put them in a fairly simple scenario.
Avoid defeat to Mattie Kenny’s side, who know themselves that only a win will keep their hopes alive, and Micheál Donoghue’s men will be playing in Croke Park on June 30. If they do lose then a draw in the other game will see Galway catastrophically move from first to fourth in the table on scoring difference, as their low scoring victory over Carlow suddenly becomes an issue.
Davy Fitzgerald’s side will be hoping to emulate their narrow 2017 victory over Kilkenny on home turf, but if Galway are in any sort of danger of losing in the capital then all supporters of a maroon persuasion will surely be listening intently for score updates from Innovate Wexford Park.
Galway will hit the road for the second week running hugely encouraged by their performance levels last Sunday even if there was a certain sense of relief alongside the understandable joy at the final whistle, as they were hanging on by their finger nails to a slender lead as a defiant Kilkenny side stubbornly refused to believe that they could ever be beaten.
After winning the toss and electing to play with the wind in the first half, Galway tore into the physical contests straight away, with Johnny Glynn at centre half forward quickly getting into the thick of it. Despite having less of the ball, Kilkenny still led by one after nine minutes but in the blink of an eye Galway had wiped that out and more at the other end.
Importantly, Cathal Mannion was on target with his first two shots from long distance and his diagonal passes into the inside line were proving fruitful. When Conor Whelan bludgeoned his way past Paul Murphy, who was already on a yellow, he only had eyes for goal and found the bottom corner.
A Jason Flynn free, in a half where he struggled with his accuracy, was followed by an excellent score by Adrian Tuohey and Galway were motoring, or so we thought. Back roared Kilkenny, hitting 1-4 without reply, TJ Reid’s goal exposing a rare moment when Daithí Burke was caught badly out of position.
A solitary Cathal Mannion point in a worrying spell midway through the half kept the visitors only two adrift as Kilkenny wasted chances of their own, but after Touhey took full advantage of some sloppy Kilkenny defending Galway suddenly refound their attacking mojo and scored six further points before the interval to lead by three.
It was a precarious lead, given the conditions, but a strong start to the second period proved crucial, with David Burke, Glynn, Whelan, and Brian Concannon to the fore for Galway. When Whelan scored from an acute angle on 46 minutes Galway led by 1-18 to 1-13, and it got better still when Flynn picked out Concannon for a goal that stretched their lead to eight.
With Kilkenny a man down after Murphy’s second yellow, Galway were expected to coast home but knew well there was plenty of fight left in Brian Cody’s troops, led by the indomitable Reid. Instantly, Colin Fennelly drew a point blank save from Colm Callanan, and when Reid read a break expertly and fired to the net, it was back to a three-point game with more than 10 minutes to play.
Galway broke upfield, though, and Flynn again played the right pass to set Johnny Coen away and the Loughrea man drilled a shot to the net. It would prove to be Galway’s last score as both John Hanbury and Ger Aylward were also dismissed in a frenetic finale, one that appeared destined to end in despair for Galway, but Kilkenny came up just short.
Dublin are next on the horizon and if Galway can again match their opponent’s physicality then their superior hurlers should win out, but the tight confines of Parnell Park make for a testing environment for most teams. Galway have won the last four matches between the counties, a fifth in a row looks possible but do not count out any outcome.
GALWAY: C Callanan; A Harte, Daithí Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, J Cooney; S Loftus, David Burke (0-1 ); A Tuohey (0-2 ), J Glynn (0-1 ), C Mannion (0-8, 1f ); C Whelan (1-2 ), J Flynn (0-3, 2fs ), B Concannon (1-2 ). Subs: J Coen (1-1 ) for Loftus (35 mins ), D Glennon for Tuohey (59 mins ), N Burke for Concannon (64 mins ).
KILKENNY: D Brennan (0-1f ); T Walsh, H Lawlor, P Murphy; C Fogarty, P Walsh, P Deegan (0-1 ); A Murphy (0-1 ), R Leahy (0-2 ); A Mullen, B Ryan (0-3 ), TJ Reid (2-11, 0-6fs, 0-1 ‘65 ); B Sheehan (0-2 ), C Fennelly (0-1 ), G Aylward. Subs: R Hogan for Mullen (32 mins ), J Holden for T Walsh (45 mins ), J Cleere for Murphy (50 mins ), J Donnelly for Sheehan (59 mins ).
REFEREE: C. Lyons (Cork ).