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Kilkenny fall in another national final but Cats still have Galway’s number

Inside Track with John McIntyre

GIVEN their unprecedented dominance of hurling for the first 15 years of this century, we thought we’d never see the day when Kilkenny hurlers would develop a habit of losing finals, except unfortunately when the Cats come up against Galway.

In the past two years, Kilkenny have been beaten in consecutive All-Ireland finals by Limerick, and also came up short in the 2023 league decider against the Shannonsiders. That bad run continued with another big-day defeat by Clare at Semple Stadium last Saturday evening.

In between those four national final defeats, however, Kilkenny still had Galway’s number in a pair of Leinster showdowns. Sure, they stole a fourth consecutive provincial title with Cillian Buckley’s last-gasp goal in 2023, but the record books will be paying no heed to that.

Against that background, it is imperative for Galway to at least win this year’s upcoming Leinster championship. Anything else and Henry Shefflin’s management of the Tribesmen could be on borrowed time, and that would be a pity, for the most influential player of the past 40 years has brought huge energy and professionalism to the role.

Though there remains some local pessimism about Galway’s prospects, there appears to be a lot more belief in the team’s prospects outside of the county. For starters, Tipperary are in freefall; Waterford are in a tactical straitjacket under Davy Fitzgerald; Cork still can’t get the job done in the games that count; Wexford aren’t much good; and Dublin have regressed.

That leaves Galway a clear third in the pecking order, but this really is make or break season for the team management. Cathal Mannion and Brian Concannon are back, while the camp had a very successful recent training camp in Portugal. Whatever Galway’s fate is this summer, there can be no excuses.

Back to Saturday evening in Thurles when Kilkenny got a glimpse of what life would be like without 36-years-old TJ Reid. The team’s sharpshooter was an absentee for the league final with a hamstring pull and he was sorely missed, especially as Billy Drennan had a difficult time on the frees, and Eoin Cody fluffed a late penalty.

For all that, Kilkenny were just two points adrift at the finish as Clare got a dose of late jitters. That was an understandable scenario given that they had lost to the same opponents in the last two All-Ireland semi-finals. When you also throw in their gallantry (and hard luck) in two epic Munster finals against Limerick over the same period, the Banner simply had to win on Saturday.

Pictured: Gary Dooley from Corrandulla and CSF Olympic Jewel after winning the Junior Grand Prix in Sentower, Belgium on Sunday. Gary was also part of the Irsih team which finished second in the Nations Cup. The mare was bred by Patrick Connolly from Corrandulla.

 

 

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