Burning Issue: Who'll get their hands on Liam, Kilkenny or Galway?
Galway have the ominous task of beating Kilkenny twice in one season, while the Cats set their sights on a sixth title in seven seasons. So who's it gonna be? Two JOE staffers argue the case for either side.
Conor Heneghan says... No offence to Kilkenny or their supporters, but I’d say my own take on the All-Ireland Final would be shared by a large wedge of hurling supporters outside the Marble county.
My heart says Galway. Local rivalries are the lifeblood of GAA, but for the most part, GAA followers wish their neighbours the best once they go beyond provincial boundaries and as a Mayo man, I would dearly love to see them claim what would only be their fifth All-Ireland and their first since 1988. Besides, it would add a new name to the Liam MacCarthy roll of honour which has become way too predictable for the best part of the last ten years.
But, alas, I can’t see it happening, even though there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that they can cause an upset and make light of their pretty generous 5/2 odds. But if the task of beating this Kilkenny outfit once in a season is mammoth enough, beating them twice is nigh on impossible.
As George Bush once mumbled: “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”
To attribute the Leinster Final defeat as completely down to Kilkenny complacency is a grave insult to Galway, who were simply far and away the better side on the day. But they angered the beast, woke them from their slumber and will be meeting a completely different animal at headquarters on Sunday.
Galway, of course, may well prove us all wrong and defy the odds once again, but it’s almost like David giving Goliath another chance, like Buster Douglas stepping back into the ring with Mike Tyson; the chances of a repeat of the original upset are vastly reduced.
For the first time since their 2010 All-Ireland Final defeat to Tipp, Kilkenny had to deal with some searching questions about their ability after being wiped out by the Tribesmen. Were their older guard as influential as before? Were the young lads up to scratch? Could the likes of TJ Reid and Aidan Fogarty step up to the plate if their more heralded teammates – Tommy Walsh being unusually quiet against Galway, for example – were being held?
The response was not entirely convincing against Limerick, but it was almost as if the Cats were holding something in reserve for the semi-final, where they went toe-to-toe with Tipp for the fourth time in four years. Then, the response was emphatic.
Tipp were well-below par and the Lar Corbett sideshow was embarrassing and entirely beneficial to their opponents, but Kilkenny were awesome and the fact that they outscored the Premier by 3-15 to 0-5 in the second half tells you all you need to know.
The key to Galway beating Kilkenny the first day was their sheer unadulterated intensity and the role Damien Hayes played around the middle of the pitch, both in the extra presence it lent Galway in that area and the space it created for Joe Canning and company in the Galway attack.
Possibly concerned only with how his own side would operate going into the Leinster Final, Brian Cody will have devised a plan to counteract the tactic in the final and that’s before one considers the return of Michael Fennelly, who was sorely missed the first time around.
While Kilkenny had a number of players operating in second gear in July, they’re now at full-tilt or fairly close to it in the lead-up to Sunday. Old stagers Jackie Tyrell, Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney and Henry Shefflin all impressed in the semi-final. So did Colin Fennelly. TJ Reid and Aidan Fogarty were revelations. Richie Hogan’s back as well. The options are numerous and that is ominous for the Westerners.
With Anthony Cunningham in charge and a group of youngsters like Galway have at their disposal, their time will come eventually. But not this year, I’m afraid.
Declan Whooley says... It’s the business end of the hurling season and that can mean just one thing. Kilkenny will meet a challenger for the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and in 2012 the signs are that the Black and Amber may be knocked off their perch. Galway are poised to claim an unlikely double over their highly decorated opponents and claim only their fifth ever All-Ireland title.
Win, lose or draw there can be little doubt that Anthony Cunningham has had a huge impact in his short time as senior boss. After success with the St. Brigids and Garrycastle footballers in Roscommon and Westmeath respectively, he led the U-21 Galway hurlers to All-Ireland success last year. The man certainly has the midas touch.
Eight players that featured against Waterford in last year’s quarter-final defeat did not even make the bench for the semi-final victory over Cork, while last year’s captain Damien Joyce has also become surplus to requirements.
14 members of that U-21 team are on the panel with Johnny Coen, Niall Burke and Conor Cooney holding down their starting berths. Each sub that came on against Cork came from Cunningham’s successful U-21 side. James Regan did play last year but is playing with more freedom in the new system.
And the new system has given others a new lease of life. Damien Hayes is more involved in matches than he ever was before while Iarla Tannian can no longer be accused of drifting in and out of games now that he is in the cut and thrust of midfield. Joe Canning is looking leaner than ever while Tony Og Regan is in All-Star form, along with Fergal Moore and Johnny Coen.
Similar to the Mayo footballers, the Tribesmen have always been seen to produce skilful players that often wilted in the heat of battle on the big stage. Cunningham has introduced a combative approach that was in full evidence in the Leinster Final.
The performance shown to take the Bob O’Keeffe west for the first time surprised even many Galway followers but represented a seismic change in Galway attitude. For the first time in recent memory they had come out the right side of a real battle. In beating the Cats in the 2005 semi-final they won an incredibly high scoring game in a shoot-out. This time they physically got the better of Cody’s men before allowing their skilful hurlers shine.
Probably the single biggest reason behind Kilkenny’s remarkable recent success is belief. Granted they have an immensely talented bunch of players, but opponents taking to the field against them are often beaten before a ball is thrown in. See Tipperary’s ploy of putting a star like Lar Corbett forward on Tommy Walsh.
Galway will know they can beat Brian Cody’s charges after events earlier in the summer, and with players of the quality of Moore, Coen, Hayes and Canning they have players that will pose the Cats serious trouble. Very few of this squad has baggage from previous years and come with a winning mentality from last year's All-Ireland success with the under-21s.
The belief and ability is there for Galway to win. There is no doubt that Brian Cody will have done his homework and that Kilkenny will not be caught cold for a second time. They will expect ferocity, Hayes to roam around midfield and Canning to be the primary scoring threat.
Galway are sniffing victory and while no team has beaten Kilkenny twice in the one season, Sunday could well be the day we see history being made. Kilkenny have been deserving champions and history makers, but on Sunday night the Galway trophy cabinet should have a new piece of silverware to add to the Bob O’Keeffe title won in July.