Tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, (Ref: Barry Kelly, Westmeath)
Latest from the medics and management…Kilkenny have been forced into one alteration due to Michael Rice missing out through injury and in an interesting move it is Richie Hogan who is selected to play at midfield instead of Cillian Buckley.
KILKENNY SH: 1. David Herity (Dunamaggin); 2. Paul Murphy (Danesfort), 3. JJ Delaney (Fenians), 4. Jackie Tyrrell (James Stephens); 5. Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), 6. Brian Hogan (O’Loughlin Gaels), 7. Kieran Joyce (Rower-Inistioge); 8. Michael Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 9. Richie Hogan (Danesfort); 10. Henry Shefflin (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 11. TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 12. Eoin Larkin (James Stephens); 13. Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks), 14. Richie Power (Carrickshock), 15. Aidan Fogarty (Emeralds).
Galway have also made one change with Cyril Donnellan returning to the team at wing-forward having been unable to start the semi-final due to an arm injury. Conor Cooney is the player to make way.
GALWAY SH: 1. James Skehill (Cappataggle); 2. David Collins (Liam Mellows), 3. Kevin Hynes (Sarsfield’s), 4. Fergal Moore (Turloughmore); 5. Niall Donoghue (Kilbeacanty), 6. Tony Óg Regan (Rahoon-Newcastle), 7. Johnny Coen (Loughrea); 8. Iarla Tannian (Ardrahan), 9. Andy Smith (Portumna); 10. David Burke (St. Thomas’s), 11. Niall Burke (Oranmore-Maree), 12. James Regan (St Thomas); 13. Cyril Donnellan (Pádraig Pearse’s), 14. Joe Canning (Portumna), 15. Damien Hayes (Portumna).
Checking the odds…Kilkenny are the strong favorites at 4/11 with Galway available at 11/4. The handicap betting has Kilkenny (-4) available at evens while in the first goalscorer markets there could be value with Eoin Larkin at 12/1 and TJ Reid at 14/1.
Clues from the form guide…The background to this match is firmly framed by what happened in the Leinster final in July. Galway certainly surprised Kilkenny with the standard of performance that they conjured up in that game – their powerful opening to the match, the physical tone they set from the throw-in and the dynamism of their forwards which unsettled Kilkenny’s defence. On this occasion Kilkenny are forewarned and should be better prepared for those facets of their opponents challenge.
Kilkenny’s form has certainly improved since then with their second-half displays against Limerick and Tipperary in the All-Ireland series particularly impressive. Galway will take comfort from the fact that Kilkenny did stutter early on against Limerick and also that the manner in which Tipperary’s tactics backfired aided the Cats ability to take control. The Tribesmen should have a better defensive structure than Tipperary did yet the task of repeating their provincial heroics will be difficult.
The game breakers are…It’s worth comparing Kilkenny’s line-up for tomorrow in comparison to that which face Galway in July. The return of JJ Delaney should have a stabilizing effect on their defence and particularly help them in quelling the threat of Joe Canning. Michael Fennelly is back in situ at midfield, and while Michael Rice is a loss in that sector, the presence of Fennelly gives Kilkenny extra power and it will be tough for Galway to get a platform of dominance here. The increased impact of Aidan Fogarty and TJ Reid in the Kilkenny attack is also crucial as they line up with the established threats of Henry Shefflin and Richie Power.
That provides Kilkenny with clear advantages yet Galway cannot be automatically discount. There is plenty evidence to suggest that they are a more durable and resilient outfit than the brittle sides that previously represented the county. The form of young players Johnny Coen and Niall Donoghue is hugely encouraging, experienced figures like Fergal Moore and Iarla Tannian are hurling excellently while David Burke and the leading contender for Hurler of the Year Joe Canning are the match-winners up front.
The impact that Canning has will be significant. He hit full speed early on in the Leinster final and Galway flourished as a result while his score taking in the first-half against Cork lifted his teammates and their supporters also. Kilkenny will be aware of the importance of nullifying Galway early on. Anthony Cunningham will have impressed on his Galway players the importance of keeping things tight in the opening stages and preventing Kilkenny from surging through for goals.
Gazing into the crystal ball…The simplistic view of this game is that Kilkenny are wounded after the Leinster final and their management and players will be ferociously hungry to get revenge. That does a disservice to Galway and their levels of organization should ensure they do not crumble in the manner that Tipperary did in the second-half of the All-Ireland semi-final. Can Galway spring a surprise? Certainly as they have the confidence and knowledge of defeating Kilkenny before.
Yet this is a marquee occasion that is unchartered territory for so many of their players. In contrast Kilkenny have vast experience and that crucially extends to their bench as well. That nous could be vital. There are some reservations over Kilkenny’s form yet they have still found their way to September and that desire to keep winning will be intact. Kilkenny should be more focused than they were in July and are better equipped with players now. For all of Galway’s strengths, that should be enough for Brian Cody’s side to prevail.
Damien Hayes: ‘The one thing I’ll be telling the younger players is not to make the game any bigger than it is.’