It is easy to reflect back on All-Ireland final day and look on what might have been, but players are put in a position and everything is now.
For Kilkenny on Sunday, it was just another All-Ireland final. Their panel went into last Sunday’s final with a staggering 69 All-Ireland senior medals. Most or all of the players were used to the pre-match build up, the parade around the grounds, meeting the President and playing a hurling game in front of 80,000 plus spectators and a mammoth television audience all over the world.
Yet, for most of the first-half on Sunday, the Kilkenny players displayed a nervousness that we have not seen too often on All Ireland final day from the famed ‘Cats’.
Galway, on the other hand, had a group of relatively inexperienced players, many of whom weren’t born when Galway won their last All-Ireland senior hurling title in 1988. Few of them were involved when Galway’s last played in an All-Ireland final in 2005 and yet they showed experience beyond their years.
An All-Ireland final can be a daunting arena and the fact that Galway have been a huge bogey to Kilkenny over many years is a worrying concern for the Kilkenny side, and obviously unsettled them early on. The fact that Galway refused to surrender will leave the Kilkenny side pondering just what they have to do to put Galway away over the next few weeks.
Tradition also means a lot in Kilkenny and the fact that they have failed to win a replayed All-Ireland hurling final could become a factor.
The tactical game that Galway has played this year can be upsetting to most oppositions and Kilkenny have found difficulty with it. Yet, for long periods of last Sunday, Galway used their ace poacher Joe Canning on a roving role. In the opening minutes of the Leinster final, Canning was in at full-forward, caught the ball and goaled. On Sunday last, the goal he scored came when running on to the ball from an outfield position.
He can do it at any level, but to have such an ace goal poacher playing so far away from the goal is surely playing into the hands of the opposition. Canning was outfield for much of the second-half last Sunday and simply went missing after giving a wonderful performance in the opening period.
The best assets that Galway have needs to be in the best position and that is in front of goal. If three players go in to mark him, it is leaving room for the other forwards outfield.
Galway have another opportunity to take the scalp of Kilkenny and this time they can and will do it, but it is all about performance on the day. Many Kilkenny players were missing in the first half on Sunday and many Galway players went missing in the second-half.
In the coming weeks, both Brian Cody and Anthony Cunningham and their backroom teams will be pondering what might have been and how to eventually overcome that final battle line. It is down to split decisions on the day. Did Galway captain Fergal Moore decide Galway’s fate and change Henry Shefflin’s mind to go to for the point from the penalty because of his early blocked free? Other days he would have gone for the goal and probably wrapped up the game.