Galway needs to lay down a marker
It would seem that Galway hurling supporters have fallen into two distinct camps ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland final replay — those who believe the Tribesmen have left it behind them and those who are firmly of the view that the experience of the drawn match will bring the Liam MacCarthy west of the Shannon for the first time since 1988.
The anti-climatic nature of all drawn finals, and the intervening hype surrounding Mayo and Donegal in the football decider, means that there is a low-key, almost surreal, atmosphere going into this one.
The enthralling nature of the drawn match left supporters exhausted so one can only imagine the task facing players and management as they regroup to do it all over again.
Those who believe that the experience gleaned by a young side of playing in a final will be the factor that will swing in Galway’s favour against arguably the best ever hurling team will have been encouraged by what they saw just after full-time in the drawn match.
Kilkenny headed for the dressing room but the Galway management took their squad for a full warm-down on the pitch and the sight of the players huddled in a wide circle, arms around each other, with Anthony Cunningham, Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert inside the group talking to them, sent out a telling message.
They may have been the new kids on the block, but here was a group making it clear they considered themselves to be still on a journey, that there was unfinished work.
That’s twice this year Galway has gone toe-to-toe with Kilkenny in championship hurling and not lost. There is no other side in the country that has managed that since 2005.
But, if the drawn game will serve Galway well, then it is also true that Kilkenny will glean a lot of hope from it as well. Some doubts must have been instilled in their armour by Galway’s landslide Leinster final win.
Galway knows that Kilkenny are not unbeatable, but Brian Cody’s men are also aware that the Tribesmen are also vulnerable.
Kilkenny will point to an attack which failed to click against a rampant Galway defence and they would surely have surrendered their crown was it not for the brilliance of Henry Shefflin. Minimising his influence on Sunday will be essential to a Galway success.
Galway, too, will feel there is a lot more in their attack and seek a better return from the likes of Cyril Donnellan, Damian Hayes and David Burke.
They will need to send more quality ball into Joe Canning, while the delivery to the attack will need to be closer to the ground if the Galway forwards are to have an impact. Trying to take on that Kilkenny defence in the air will see a second defeated team return to Connacht in eight days.
It is all likely to boil down to who can get control early on. Kilkenny, like Donegal last Sunday, are near uncatchable if they get a start.
Galway need to lay down a marker from the outset. Could Cunningham and his men have some surprise move to pull at the start? They will need to unsettle Kilkenny, rattle their cage and hurl without fear.
That is how they have regularly beaten Kilkenny at underage and they have shown this year they can transfer that to senior level. Above all, they can’t allow Kilkenny dictate at the start and to that they will need to summon a frenzy.
It would be some All-Ireland final for Galway to win, especially meeting Kilkenny three times this year.
History has shown that Galway has always had to play in a final before they won one.
It should be no different this time round . . . other than a draw rather than defeat being the lot from the first innings.