PREVIEW: Galway vs Kilkenny (Sunday, 3pm Semple Stadium) 

Galway Kilkenny hurling

During a golden period for Galway hurling, if ever a time came for everyone to stop, think and look where the Tribesmen currently stand, it was last Sunday’s (1st July) Leinster Hurling Final. 

Coming into the game, comparisons were being made to the great teams of the 1980s, even the great five-in-a-row chasing Kilkenny team of the 2000s.  There was even a suggestion that Kilkenny may be afraid of Galway!

Galway are the top team at the moment.  The 2017 All-Ireland champions are the team to beat.  But they have won ONE McCarthy Cup!  They’ve already surrendered their league crown.  And despite leading by three points in the drawn match’s closing stages, they didn’t retain the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.

A young Clare side, guided by Davy Fitzgerald, won the 2013 title and were expected to dominate.  They haven’t done anything of note since even if they still lurk in the background.

Tipperary were going to take over the hurling landscape in 2010 and 2016.  Before the 2018 knock out race commenced, Michael Ryan’s charges were finished for the summer.  It’s the most competitive championship field in a long time and Galway are just one of six genuine contenders.

While nobody will question it was deliberate inside the camp, former Kilkenny hurler Richie Power was right when he wrote that Galway showed Kilkenny a “lack of respect.”  The buildup to the provincial decider reeked of complacency on a par with England’s World Cup expectations after beating Panama.

Kilkenny are league champions and while they were very poor in the round-robin contest in Pearse Stadium when the Tribesmen prevailed 1-22 to 2-11, Brian Cody was never going to leave Salthill without realising how to improve his team’s fortunes.  And they let Galway know in Croke Park!

Galway could/should have put the game to bed.  Enda Morrissey and TJ Reid got late points to save the tie.  Teams in fear don’t save ties!  And dominant champions don’t let leads slip!

In 2018, Galway have played two knock out matches (Leinster Hurling Final vs Kilkenny, League semi-final vs Wexford) and haven’t won.  Throw-in the winner-takes-all Division 1B meeting with Limerick that saw them denied promotion, and their reign could be on the verge of unravelling.

That being said, the best way forward is to respond and a solid performance in Thurles will see Galway into the All-Ireland semi-final.  Adrian Tuohey, Daithi Burke and Padraic Mannion will lead the defence; Johnny Coen and David Burke will work in tandem in midfield; while Cathal Mannion, Joe Canning and Joseph Cooney can do damage up front.

Kilkenny are not the force of old but they have a solid spine in 2018 through keeper Eoin Murphy, defenders Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley, midfielder James Maher and TJ Reid at centre forward.  Plus, seven Croke Park debutants survived a joust with the All-Ireland champions.

Sunday, 8th July will finally answer where Galway 2018 stand!  Four round-robin wins is nothing compared to knock out action.  And while both teams will benefit from the extra game, the losers won’t fancy a six/seven-day turnaround before meeting Limerick (or Carlow) in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

A win could set Galway up for a run that may yield back-to-back All-Ireland titles in August.  But they haven’t achieved anything yet to suggest that is a guarantee.  Kilkenny, on the other hand, have been doing it for years.  And just when you think they’re gone, they resurface in devastating fashion.

The last time the Leinster Hurling Final went to a replay in 1993, Kilkenny won!  And the last four times these counties met in Semple Stadium, Kilkenny won!  Maybe their time of winning these games is coming to an end.  But Galway will have to earn it!

Verdict: Kilkenny