The minor hurlers of Galway and Kilkenny will clash in the All-Ireland final for the 10th time on Sunday afternoon in Croke Park (1pm ), and the Cats, although with the historical edge, will be seeking revenge over Galway who have dominated this rivalry in recent years.
Kilkenny hold a 6-3 advantage on this trophy over Galway - the first of those wins produced in 1931 when they claimed their first title in the competition’s fourth edition. However, Galway’s 0-21 to 0-14 victory in last year’s decider gives them a 3-2 lead since the turn of the century.
Galway’s enthralling 3-16 to 2-16 win last month at the same venue ensures the Tribesmen have now won five-in-a-row against Kilkenny, stretching back to semi-final victories in 2015 and 2017. Throw in the fact that the Galway seniors came away from Nowlan Park with a championship victory this summer, and there are plenty of reasons why the black and amber brigade will be looking for a big win.
Yet again Galway will have to cope with their supporters being vastly outnumbered as Kilkenny fans pour into GAA headquarters ahead of a highly anticipated senior final against Tipperary. However Brian Hanley’s charges managed this brilliantly when taking on Wexford in the semi-final, with an imperious defensive performance laying the platform for a nine-point winning margin.
Leading light McDonagh
Seán McDonagh was again the leading light in attack for Galway, the Mountbellew-Moylough starlet taking his scoring total to 2-28 thus far from three starts, with 1-9 coming from play. McDonagh is one of three players in the panel who came on as substitutes in the 2018 final, alongside Ian McGlynn and Colm Cunningham, and his accuracy from placed balls will again be key.
Thankfully Kilconieron’s McGlynn, the team’s captain and a pillar at centre half-back, has been cleared to play on Sunday after his straight red card from the Wexford match was rescinded. At a hearing of the GAA’s central hearings committee last Thursday night, Galway’s appeal was upheld when the alleged infraction of striking with a hurley with minimal force was not proven.
Against Wexford, Galway were content to defend man-to-man at the back, putting further pressure on the Wexford backs, and it will be interesting to see if they drop their half forwards back to defend deeper on this occasion against Kilkenny, as they did in their first encounter, when at one point they led by 12 points in a remarkable first half.
Ballygar’s Greg Thomas was on fire on that occasion, bulldozing through for two goals, and he has proved an invaluable target for puck-outs and long deliveries throughout the campaign. Shane Morgan may not have scored to date, but if the head knock suffered late against Wexford rules out the full forward, it will be a blow to Galway’s hopes as his link up play has been impressive throughout.
The Galway half-forward line has remained unchanged since the first game, with Tiernan Killeen and Colm Cunningham working hard alongside the mercurial McDonagh. Galway’s ability to spread their scores has been mightily impressive thus far, as has the impact from players coming off the bench.
Alex Connaire has been invaluable in the midfield sector after contributing two points off the bench against Kilkenny when they were badly needed, while Sean O’Hanlon’s four points against Clare helped keep the Banner side at bay when Galway were looking in deep trouble. Gort’s Paddy Cummins has also scored against both Clare and Wexford after being introduced, and Hanley will need to time his changes to perfection again on Sunday.
Kilkenny's multiple threats
Kilkenny’s never-say-die attitude yet again surfaced when the sides last met. They drew level after a powerful third quarter before Galway surged again, and full back Eoin Lawless will need to be at his best to thwart the multiple threats posed by the Kilkenny attack.
Billy Drennan, Jack Doyle, and Timmy Clifford found form at just the right time as the Cats brushed aside the Munster champions Limerick by 2-24 to 0-18 in their semi-final. Liam Moore fired over four points from midfield as Kilkenny powered clear in the second half, while Drennan, who only managed a point from play against Galway, caused havoc with 1-4 from play in a total tally of 1-8.
Ian Byrne caused Galway plenty of headaches off the bench last time, and he looks certain to start in the inside line this time out. Kilkenny were most effective when they ran directly at the Galway defence, but Galway still appear to have the more rounded team with the capability of playing a variety of styles.
They had 10 different scorers against Clare, with seven contributing against both Kilkenny and Wexford, while the addition of Sarsfields’ John Cooney to the half back line should help contain the more physical elements of the Kilkenny attack.
Galway are aiming to complete a remarkable three-in-a-row at this level, which would also be the county's sixth title in 10 years, and Ian McGlynn will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous captains such as Anthony Cunningham, Conor O’Donovan, and Seán Loftus who have lifted the Irish Press Cup aloft in the Hogan Stand. If the do, they will become only the fourth county in the history of the GAA to win three All-Ireland minor hurling titles in succession.