We are told it is all about what happens inside the white lines, but sometimes events marginally outside can also capture attention and intrigue.
fter Galway defeated Kilkenny in Salthill, the icy handshake between Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin became an irresistible part of the narrative, fuelling speculation of strained relations between once indivisible comrades.
If hurling is ultimately what matters and dictates a team’s fortunes, the personalities on the periphery are no less interesting or germane. And here was a handshake that truly spoke a thousand words. In building public interest ahead of this Leinster final, it played a significant role.
This time, when the final whistle went, there was no immediate handshake, though they did adhere to the standard post-match ritual some minutes later and locked hands. Of the two, Cody was undoubtedly the happier, having seen his side grind out a win over a desperately disappointing Galway.
On the day, in a poor match, they had TJ Reid to thank for a 12-point haul, all from placed balls, as they won their third provincial title in succession. Adrian Mullen scored four points from play, and in injury-time, Pádraig Walsh sealed the victory with a score having come off the bench. The television man-of-the-match award went to their pocket of energy, Mikey Butler, who made a series of defensive interventions in the second half as Galway tried to get back into the game, backed by a strong wind.
But Shefflin’s side proved unable to hit the high gears and were guilty of regular fouling, though some awarded by James Owens were questioned by their followers in a small crowd, the stadium not much more than a quarter full.
Since losing in Salthill, Kilkenny had defeated Dublin well and then lost troublingly at Nowlan Park for the first time in the championship, relying on superior score difference to make their fifth provincial final on the trot. Defeat to Galway a second time would have meant a third loss in the one championship; that hardly augured well, for all of Kilkenny’s renowned spirit and willingness to fight tooth and nail to the death.
Galway were aiming for a first Leinster title since 2018, but after topping the round robin and showing the most consistency, they flopped. Conor Whelan did all he could, scoring four points from play, and Conor Cooney finished with 0-9, one from a sideline and one from play, the rest from dead balls. But Brian Concannon was taken off, scoreless, and Cathal Mannion also failed to score. Tom Monaghan and Johnny Coen started in the middle of the field; both were taken off.
If Shefflin is frowned on in Kilkenny for relocating west of the Shannon, then that position might have more currency had the road to the Kilkenny job had not been blocked off, still in the grip of the figure who has managed more All-Ireland senior wins than any other, a winning streak of 11 in 16 seasons. But the last was in 2015 and that clock is ticking more loudly and less sympathetically than ever. Cody would never admit to pressure or admit to one match being more important than another, yet this had serious consequences for him and the team under his charge.
They weren’t wonderful, but they gouged out a win, enough to see them take their place in the All-Ireland semi finals in four weeks. Galway will now have to shake themselves down and prepare for a quarter-final in two weeks.
Kilkenny have been in a state of constant flux this year and we may see more team upheaval come the semi-final. Only six of their starting side have started all six matches to date. Some of that is down to injury, but there is a lot of movement around the midfield and half-forward zones. Huw Lawlor returned to full-back as expected after injury in place of Conor Delaney, while Richie Leahy did not last the full match. Cian Kenny, restored to midfield, was also called ashore. But having led by just two points at half-time, having played with the wind, they refused to allow Galway get back on level terms in the second period.
Mullen and Paddy Deegan picked off long-range scores in the first half, but they were aggrieved when TJ Reid was denied a possible score from a free 24 minutes after Hawk-eye failed to function when called on after an umpire at the near post was uncertain.
That could have been a metaphor for the match itself, which failed to sparkle or ignite. Whelan hit two delightful scores, one on the spin, another from an acute angle while hugging the sideline, but moments like those were sporadic in a game spoiled by frequent stoppages.
There were a number of goal chances, mostly falling Galway’s way. In the eighth minute, Conor Cooney took a pass from Pádraic Mannion and picked out Concannon, but as he was about to shoot for goal, Eoin Murphy rushed out and made a vital block. Ten minutes later, Galway needed their own goalkeeper’s intervention, Éanna Murphy making a smart save to deny a flicked effort from Eoin Cody after a high ball broke in the square.
Exchanges got heated after a foul on Richie Reid led to players squaring up to each other and ended in a yellow card for Kilkenny selector James McGarry as well as Galway’s Joe Cooney. But even that did not lift the intensity of the hurling, which felt more like a league game than a Leinster final.
After the Hawk-eye call, Cianan Fahy hit a fine score from play, but Kilkenny responded well with three points back to back, book-ended by a beautiful score from Conor Cooney after catching his keeper’s puck out. Near half-time, Whelan had a shot at goal stopped by Murphy and Galway spoiled a promising opportunity when Concannon’s pass to a well-placed Whelan left him too much to do. They went in 0-11 to 0-9 in front.
Galway had wind after the interval, but they struggled to claw back the Kilkenny lead. Ten minutes into the half, Whelan got on a ball that came off the upright, but his shot was saved with ease by Murphy. The more it went on, the more it looked like Kilkenny’s day.
Scorers – Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-12 (11fs, 1 65); A Mullen 0-4; P Deegan 0-2; M Keoghan, B Ryan, R Leahy, P Walsh 0-1 each. Galway: C Cooney 0-9 (5 fs, 1 lb, 2 65s); C Whelan 0-4; C Fahy 0-2; F Burke, P Mannion (f) 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; M Carey, R Reid, P Deegan; C Fogarty, C Kenny; A Mullen, B Ryan, R Leahy; TJ Reid, M Keoghan, E Cody. Subs: C Browne for Kenny (ht); W Walsh for Leahy (45); P Walsh for Ryan (54); J Donnelly for Keoghan (60);
Galway: E Murphy; J Grealish, Daithi Burke, D Morrissey; P Mannion, G McInerney, F Harte; T Monaghan, J Coen; C Fahy, J Cooney, C Cooney; C Mannion, C Whelan, B Concannon. Subs: J Flynn for Monaghan (44); R Glennon for Fahy (55); David Burke for Coen (60); G Lee for Concannon (70).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).