Every year around this time, there comes along a match that allows the collective audience to clap their hands together and agree, “Right, that’s the championship started now.” This was that match. Kilkenny came into it not quite crippled but at least limping from injuries to some of their more benighted first-teamers, prime among them full-back Noel Hickey. In his absence, the classy JJ Delaney was stationed on the square to keep tabs on Joe Canning and in the end, you’d probably have to declare their battle a draw. Canning did finish the game with
2-9 to his name but only a goal of that came from play and for the 20 minute spell in the middle of the second half where Kilkenny took the game and decided to win it, he was anonymous. Such is the young
genius’s brutish sorcery that in years to come, restricting him to 2-9 or thereabouts might come to be regarded as just about level par for
The key to Kilkenny’s win was that they never panicked and never saw the game as beyond them. Even when Galway started the second half by scoring 2-2 without reply, Kilkenny just kept doing to small, simple things right. And to win the game, they hit Galway with 10 unanswered points, mini-waves eroding away at the cliff-face of Galway’s confidence. Eoin Larkin and Henry Shefflin wrestled the game to their
liking and, despite having been a thunderous battle for long stretches, the game was over with 10 minutes to go.
Galway move on to meet Clare in three weeks, the benefit of a tough game in June a novelty they really must now take advantage of. As for Kilkenny, they’ve now been through two games – last Sunday and the
league final against Tipperary – where they’ve been stretched almost to breaking point but have come through in the end. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing for the rest of the counties will only be
confirmed as the year wears on. It’s hard to suspect it’s not the latter.