After the exciting drama of the last two weekends with Offaly, John McIntyre and his Galway team will face a fresh challenge when they take on Kilkenny in the 2010 Leinster final at Croke Park on Sunday (4pm ).
It will be a historic day as the Tribesmen play in their first Leinster final. That it is against one of the greatest hurling sides in the history of the game only adds to the occasion.
This Kilkenny side is trying to win the Liam McCarthy Cup for the fifth successive year and also seeking its 67th Leinster title this weekend and its 12th success in 13 seasons.
The only year Kilkenny failed to win Leinster since beginning their remarkable run in 1998, was in 2004 when they lost the semi-final to Wexford to a late goal by Michael Jacob.
They are a phenomenal bunch of players and the names of their top players, Shefflin, Walsh, Brennan, Hickey, Tyrrell, Comerford, Kavanagh, Larkin, Lyng, and JJ Delaney roll off the tongue with ease.
Six of their team won All-Stars last season. It was Tommy Walsh’s seventh award, while the irrepressible Henry Shefflin, who has to go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game, won his ninth.
Hence the challenge facing Galway is huge.
But therein lies the beauty of Sunday. Very few, if anybody, outside the Galway camp will expect them to win and, if they can do so, it would be a massive shock.
Kilkenny are hot favourites at 2/5 and Galway are available at 9/4 with the draw (which has been coming up frequently this season ) at 10/1.
Galway should have learnt much over the past forthnight and as team captain Shane Kavanagh pointed out during the week, the team wants to be playing in high intensity matches to learn and improve. And this Sunday is another opportunity to do so.
The decision to move into the Leinster championship has already been vindicated by the number of high quality and competitive games that Galway are now involved in on an annual basis.
Last Saturday Galway come through on a score-line of 3-17 to 2-18.
Joe Canning’s late point was a thing of beauty and Ger Farragher’s overhead flick that led to the opportunity also had to be admired. Damien Hayes gave a superb display and his 2-3 was hugely impressive. More of the same will be required this weekend from that trio.
The concession of 2-18 has to be a major worry though as the defence comes up against the best attacking unit in the country.
Kilkenny normally score around 28 to 30 points in championship hurling, so that has to be matched or beaten.
They shot 2-22 in last year’s All-Ireland final against Tipperary and 2-23 in the semi-final against Waterford.
They hit those kind of scoring totals on a regular basis and when they defeated Galway in last year’s Leinster semi-final in Tullamore they shot 2-20.
The Galway defence will have to be on red alert from the outset and they will be looking to their attacking colleagues to close down the Kilkenny defence and not give them the time to look up and pick out their men with their clearances.
The Kilkenny attack is laced with quality players and if Galway are to have any chance to collect this Sunday, those players cannot be found with high quality ball.
Damien Joyce, Ollie Canning, Shane Kavanagh and Colm Callanan will have to be on top of their game to stop Kilkenny’s inside line.
The last time Galway defeated Kilkenny in championship hurling – indeed the last time Cody and his Cats were beaten in the All-Ireland series – was the All-Ireland semi-final of 2005.
Galway won that day in late August on an incredible score-line of 5-18 to Kilkenny’s 4-18.
It was an unbelievable day and Niall Healy scored three goals with his main ally being Ger Farragher with 2-08.
For the black and amber men, Henry Shefflin notched 1-09 and Eddie Brennan scored 2-04.
Cody will not have forgotten that day and he will have his team well reminded of it. The reality is that it will take a Herculean effort for the Galway team to beat Kilkenny on Sunday, but we will travel with hope.
The Galway team that defeated Kilkenny in 2005 was: Liam Donoghue (cpt ), Shane Kavanagh, Ollie Canning, Damien Joyce, Derek Haridman, Tony Óg Regan, David Collins, Fergal Healy, David Tierney, Richie Murray, David Forde, Alan Kerins, Ger Farragher, Niall Healy, Damien Hayes. Subs used: Kevin Broderick for Niall Healy.
•Sunday’s Leinster final is live on RTÉ.