Hurlers must solve Leinster riddle

Galway’s Conor Whelan in action against Kilkenny at the Leinster GAA Senior Hurling Championship match in Salthill on Sunday. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Galway’s Conor Whelan in action against Kilkenny at the Leinster GAA Senior Hurling Championship match in Salthill on Sunday. (Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

The Galway senior hurlers head south-east this Saturday, May 4, to take on Wexford at 4pm during a weekend of action in which the race for three qualifying places in the Leinster championship becomes more of a riddle.

Galway needed a last gasp equaliser from captain Conor Whelan to claim a draw from a frantic encounter with Kilkenny in Salthill last week, while Wexford unexpectedly fell to a highly-motivated Antrim side in Belfast’s Corrigan Park.

Henry Shefflin will know that a Wexford side with their backs against the wall are going to be a tough proposition on their home turf, but the fact remains that Wexford has not beaten Galway in a championship match since the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final.

That record is remarkable given that they have clashed seven times since Galway landed in the eastern province. There have been two draws in 2019 and 2022. Keith Rossiter will be desperate to alter that record and get the Slaneysiders back in the mix, but the cracks that surfaced in their 2-22 to 2-20 loss in Belfast may be hard to paper over in just a week.

For the second week running, Wexford let a winning hand slip, conceding the last two scores of the game having led at one stage by seven in the second half.

Lee Chin carried the main scoring burden, but Wexford could not see it out, and goals by Niall McKenna and Seaan Elliott proved key for Antrim.

In Galway’s case, they are probably more that relieved to have taken a share of the spoils from last Sunday’s game at a blustery Pearse Stadium. Trailing by two points deep into injury time, Evan Niland’s steadiness from placed balls was a massive factor after his introduction, and when Galway needed a ball-winner to hold his nerve in front of the posts, Whelan stepped up to make it 2-23 to 0-29 with the last meaningful puck of the game.

Galway’s first quarter performance against the wind was encouraging, but when Derek Lyng made adjustments, Kilkenny began to take charge. The Cats held the upper-hand for the most part, displaying an accuracy in possession and when aiming at the posts that Galway lacked at times.

Gavin Lee’s first half goal was well crafted, but Kilkenny’s aerial ability shone through again on a day when Eoin Murphy, Eoin Cody, and Adrian Mullen were all absent.

A massive plus point was the form of Cathal Mannion who hit four points of the highest calibre, while Brian Concannon’s poacher’s finish was a key moment when Kilkenny were threatening to pull clear.

Galway will need to be a tighter unit defensively his Saturday, even though they will not be facing the calibre of forwards that Kilkenny possess. The loss of Darren Morrissey to a shoulder injury is a blow as he was hurling well before going off on Sunday, while Shefflin seems keen to stick with Daithí Burke in the half-back line.

Who gets the marking job on Chin will be an interesting assignment, and the Turloughmore man could well be earmarked for that role. If Galway can get more out of Whelan and get Cathal Mannion on as many possessions as possible, then a positive result should be well within Galway’s capabilities.

 

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