Kilkenny v Galway
Sunday: Croke Park, 4pm, Ref: James McGrath, Westmeath
Latest from the medics and the management…A finger injury rules JJ Delaney out of the equation but the experienced and long-serving Noel Hickey will slip seamlessly into his natural berth at the edge of the square. That’s the only change from the convincing semi-final win over Dublin.
KILKENNY: David Herity (Dunnamaggin); Paul Murphy (Danesfort), Noel Hickey (Dunnamaggin), Jackie Tyrrell (James Stephens); Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan), Brian Hogan (O’Loughlin Gaels), Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers); Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro), Paddy Hogan (Danesfort); Henry Shefflin (Ballyhale Shamrocks), TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Eoin Larkin (James Stephens); Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Richie Power (Carrickshock), Richie Hogan (Danesfort).
David Collins has shaken off the ankle injury that sidelined him for the semi-final against Offaly and is selected at right corner-back with Niall Donoghue moving to right half-back and Joseph Cooney the player to lose out.
GALWAY: James Skehill (Cappataggle); David Collins (Liam Mellowes), Kevin Hynes (Sarsfields), Fergal Moore (Turloughmore); Niall Donoghue (Kilbeacanty), Tony Og Regan (Rahoon-Newcastle), Johnny Coen (Loughrea); Iarla Tannian (Ardrahan), Andy Smith (Portumna); David Burke (St Thomas), Niall Burke (Oranmore-Maree), Cyril Donnellan (Padraig Pearses); Conor Cooney (St Thomas), Joe Canning (Portumna), Damien Hayes (Portumna).
Checking the odds…Brian Cody’s men are the clear favourites here at 1/7 with Galway valued at 11/2 and the handicap betting seeing Kilkenny (-7) priced at evens.
Clues from the form guide…The counties have only met once before at this stage with Kilkenny claiming the provincial honors in 2010 by a 1-19 to 1-12 margin. That same year Kilkenny saw their five-in-a-row All-Ireland ambitions thwarted by Tipperary but since then it’s been smooth sailing. An All-Ireland title last year, a league crown this spring and a ruthless destruction of Dublin in the recent Leinster semi-final, all point to a squad that are in rude health.
Galway, as ever, are a conundrum. The league generated encouragement when they produced a stirring revival to peg back Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and despair when they crashed heavily to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Ultimately it took a play-off win over Dublin before they staved off relegation from Division 1. The championship has continued to be a mixed bag with wins over Westmeath and Offaly featuring the compilation and concession of scores that was breathtaking in equal measure. It’s difficult to gauge the true standing of Anthony Cunningham’s team.
The game breakers are…The scoring power of the Galway attack has been demonstrated in their recent games with David Burke and Conor Cooney both showing promise, and the team has chalked up ten goals in their two championship ties to date. But there is still going to be a requirement for their talisman Joe Canning to produce a free-scoring performance if they are to spring an upset. And of more concern is their defence which has come under the microscope of late after conceding seven goals against Westmeath and Offaly.
A cavalier approach tomorrow will be clinically punished by a Kilkenny attack that carries a far greater threat than anything Galway will have faced to date. Henry Shefflin should have ironed out any kinks in his game by hurling in the Dublin match after a long lay-off, both TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly look too have enhanced their play this year, while Richie Power’s ability to career through defenses to engineer goals is a weapon that Galway will need to nullify. The return of David Collins strengthens their defence while Fergal Moore is in his natural home at corner-back. It’s still a tall order for them to quell Brian Cody’s talents.
Gazing into the crystal ball…Kilkenny have tended to administer one heavy beating during every league campaign and it was Galway who were on the receiving end when the sides met in March. Have Galway done enough in the meantime to close the 25-point gap? They are better equipped in terms of the personnel they have on show now but it does not look likely they have done enough to cut that substantial margin. Any questions over Kilkenny’s mentality dissipated in the excellence they displayed against Dublin and they should maintain their status as supremacists in Leinster tomorrow.