Cats prowl Salthill to renew rivalry

'King Henry' will face his home county this weekend as Galway hurlers tackle Kilkenny in Pearse Stadium. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

'King Henry' will face his home county this weekend as Galway hurlers tackle Kilkenny in Pearse Stadium. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Galway and Kilkenny will lock horns for the 17th time in the Leinster senior hurling championship this Sunday at 2pm in Pearse Stadium. Both sides will be eager to lay down a marker for the campaign ahead.

Drama in various guises has been attached to this fixture in recent times, from Cillian Buckley’s heart-breaking winner last year in Croke Park, to Declan McLoughlin’s equaliser for Galway in Nowlan Park six weeks earlier. The tense post-match handshake between Henry Shefflin and Brian Cody in 2022 grabbed the headlines, but thankfully that is all now in the past.

Galway are unbeaten in Kilkenny’s two previous visits to Salthill for provincial contests. Shefflin’s side will look to keep that record intact and build on a somewhat less-than-convincing 2-25 to 2-14 win over a dogged Carlow side in glorious sunshine last Sunday.

When Cathal Keane fired in Carlow’s second goal on 51 minutes only four points separated the sides, but Galway’s response was thankfully swift and clinical. Conor Whelan had just been introduced. As usual, he had the desired effect, hitting three from play as Galway pulled clear again.

Illness had ruled out Cianan Fahy, so a reshuffle saw Daithí Burke line-out at left half-back alongside Adrian Touhey and Sean Linnane. Meanwhile, Fintan Burke manned the full-back berth.

Galway’s start was impressive as Donal O’Shea and Cathal Mannion combined to set up Gavin Lee for a goal in the opening minutes.

The floodgates never opened however, as Carlow defended resolutely and picked off scores whenever they could before departing at half time, 1-14 to 0-9 behind. Galway’s third quarter sluggishness will be a worry to all involved: they were outscored by 1-5 to 0-4, but in the end they had enough in reserve as Conor Cooney impressed in the forward line.

Compare that to Kilkenny’s ability to swat aside the challenge of Antrim in their opening game last Sunday in Nowlan Park. 5-30 is a massively impressive tally, but the fact that they also shot 20 wides gives an even more accurate reflection of their superiority. Kilkenny and Clare now appear to be the most realistic challengers to Limerick’s throne. Can Galway now force themselves back into the national debate for honours?

In five of their last six Leinster matches dating back to 2019 there has only been a puck of the ball between the sides at the finish. The 2022 Leinster final was the only outlier in that regard, as Kilkenny won by five.

Galway first have to match Kilkenny’s physicality all over the pitch, be clinical when chances arise, and have an impact off the bench. Wexford’s draw with Dublin last weekend has resurrected the possibility of scoring difference deciding the three qualifiers, and Galway have suffered in this regard before.

The good news for Galway is that their injury list has not lengthened. Derek Lyng will perhaps have to sweat on the status of Eoin Cody, Adrian Mullen, and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, who were all withdrawn last weekend.

Any of the three would be huge losses for the visitors, shortening the odds for the home side who are currently the slightest of favourites.

 

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