Splitting the Posts: Tribe go to war
21:37, 10 Jul 2012
Every which way, that’s how Galway beat Kilkenny.
It sounds simplistic but not when you go into the nuts and bolts, nooks and crannies, the hooks and the blocks, all-round superiority explains their win. It was simply death by a thousand cuts.
Galway didn’t fight dirty but they got their hands dirty. Having pored over the game, the statistic that thumped us across the head from the first whistle related to dirty balls won. By this, we mean 50-50 balls that are there for either team to win in tight or even congested areas.
We counted 43 such incidents and Galway came out with possession on 30 occasions; in other numbers, that’s 70%. The men in maroon weren’t just heavily petting the Cats, they were pulling their hair out. Having found parity and more in the physical stakes, hurling’s Richter scale began waggling.
By now, it is common knowledge that the Tribesmen had 1-6 on the board before Kilkenny tapped over their first free on 20 minutes. More interestingly, we’ve noted that Galway won 12 of the first 13 dirty balls in that time, which is surely a massive contributory factor to their early advantage.
Add in that Anthony Cunningham’s men won possession off each of the first 14 puckouts of the game (David Herity hit each of the first 10, and 13 of that unbroken run for Galway) and you get an idea of how vibrant the Tribe were across the field.
The effect was devastating because two of these puckouts won against the head ended up in goals for Joe Canning, as Iarla Tannion launched possession square-wards, and then Davy Burke, after Niall O’Donoghue weaved his way out of heavy traffic.
Galway held the lion’s share of possession and most obviously in that first half. The percentages were 61 to 39 after 20 minutes, by which stage they had taken 13 of the first 15 shots. By the interval, Kilkenny had only made it into prime real estate to shoot just eight times.
When the sides met in the league a couple of months ago, the Cats had inside 20 minutes already accrued more than Galway would in 70; fast-forward to Sunday, Cunningham’s men repaid the favour inside 32 minutes.
Had they been less generous at the back, an unassailable lead would have been built up more quickly. Because as much as JJ Delaney’s absence exacerbated Kilkenny’s woes at the back, there were cameos of Galway’s expected issues in the full-back line too.
Tony Óg Regan will have to take more than his fair share of the blame for both goal concessions because it was the centre-back who gifted away possession on each occasion. Richie Hogan’s goal came about after Regan trundled up the field with the ball on his stick looking for a blind alley; he found one, lost the ball and shortly after that it was in the net.
Five minutes later, in the 49th minute, the Cats got their next score through a Henry Shefflin goal after Regan gifted possession to Hogan with an errant handpass. He then missed a barging shoulder that was never likely to find its mark.
Where the full-back line comes into this is that, on each occasion, the damage was ultimately done with a high ball in. Firstly, Richie Power snapped one inside the ’14 and threw it out for Hogan to score. Secondly, Hogan lobbed a ball into the square from the sideline and the Galway defence hesitated in a manner that Shefflin couldn’t but capitalise on. Gifting goals, as against Offaly and Westmeath, remains a worry for Galway.
Yet so few of Shefflin’s teammates provided a threat. Hogan was involved in some key moments but he was not as dangerous as expected. TJ Reid (who directly contributed to 1-9 when the sides met in the league) and captain Eoin Larkin were anonymous, with Power and Shefflin left with too much to do. Colin Fennelly’s early injury was a blow though his replacement, Aidan Fogarty, was useful when he came on — notably catching a couple of high balls.
Yet the sort of high fielding that we associate with the Kilkenny forward and back line was not evident. In fact, the Cats won possession off just eight of their 34 puckouts compared with Galway losing 12 of their 21. It is not especially unusual to be in the red when it comes to your own restarts but Kilkenny’s is to an inordinate level. They are the last team you expect to struggle in this quarter.
It’s interesting to contrast this game with the 3-26 to 0-10 win Kilkenny had over Galway in the league. Back then, the black and amber took 45 shots and converted 58%, while the submissive visitors to Nowlan Park put away just 10 of 21 shots (48%).
On Sunday, Galway found the target with 23 of 36 shots (63%) with just seven scores coming from frees. The submissive former Leinster champions actually put away 56% (13 of 23) so their accuracy was not that affected, though seven scores were frees. The biggest contrast being that Kilkenny managed only half the amount of attempts this time around.
Canning was the star of the show, of course, as he contributed to everything good about his team. From hooking players such as Richie Hogan at midfield, to intercepting Tommy Walsh sidelines in the same sector, plundering that early goal and finishing with 1-10, to creating seven scoring opportunities.
Not that he was alone in that respect, as roving livewire Damien Hayes assisted for six scoring chances himself. They were just two of 11 men in maroon to set up a teammate for a pop at goal. At the back, Johnny Coen took a sweeping brush to any rubbish ball that was aimlessly pucked up the field by Kilkenny.
That aspect was unusual to witness, as were so many facets of their play. So often the ball was pucked into empty corners for handy turnovers; 13 times they coughed up possession in their own half before the break when all the damage was done. Which again brings us back to the dirty ball because, of the 22 in the first half, 19 went with Galway.
The much-vaunted half-back line of Kilkenny looked shaky as Galway moved the entire opposing defence out of position. That was key to their gameplan — in fact it was the gameplan — and it made the likes of Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh look mortal for once.
Far from scribbling together some sort of hurling obituary, there will be some concerns over the form of Walsh who has twice this year struggled with Danny Sutcliffe and again struggled when having to deal with pace. Still, it’s early in the year but it will be a worry to Kilkenny fans. He, Delaney, Michael Fennelly and Rice, and Co must return Kilkenny’s vim and vigour to recover the season.
Galway won in the same manner that Tipperary did in 2010 and it makes you wonder why Declan Ryan changed the Premier County to a long-ball team last year. Because when you move the Kilkenny backs around (that goes double for any other side), their backs look like deck chairs on a sinking ship.
But until they are sunk, they have to be respected for the juggernaut they are. If every other championship team can be forgiven a horrid day at the office, Kilkenny can too.
Galway will be happy they were the ones dishing it out.
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