Kilkenny remain the ultimate test

Kilkenny remain the ultimate test

IN hurling the more things change, the more they stay the same. Kilkenny remain the benchmark; the chasing pack try to find out exactly where they actually stand in the greater picture by spending an afternoon in the Cats' company.

Leaving Pearse Stadium on Sunday it was difficult to make sense of a curious match in which Galway attempted to keep the game wild and loose. When Galway were outmuscled by Kilkenny in last year’s Leinster semi-final replay in Tullamore Kilkenny’s warrior spirit and zeal for contact were key: too many Galway forwards were outmuscled. It is an area needing rectifying, but there is an increased physicality about this Galway's team. The fact that Galway pocketed the spoils by taking the greatest scalp of them all left the locals encouraged.

Still for all Galway's passion it would be unwise to read too much into what occured. There really is just something about that striped jersey so Galway's focus was firm from the outset.

Colm Callanan is arguably the most under rated custodian in the top flight; Padraic Mannion was tenacious at corner-back; David Collins led by example; Iarla Tannian clocked in a serious shift; Joseph Cooney and Jonathan Glynn grafted in attack enabling the dashing Jason Flynn to supply the flashes of class. Even though Galway posted an adequate 20 point haul only two of their starting forwards, Cooney and Glynn, could be deemed self-sufficient - capable of winning their own possession under duress.

That figure increased following the half-time introduction of Joe Canning, who made a significant impact decorating a cameo with a gorgeous sideline cut. Conor Cooney's return will add another viable option for Galway, who have skilful and promising contributors in Flynn and Cathal Mannion. The youngsters, though, must prove their true worth in the Championship, but the recent evidence augurs well.

Despite suffering a second defeat in three fixtures there was the usual heart and honesty to Kilkenny’s approach. It doesn’t seem to matter who wears the black and amber, most who pull it over their chests are so utterly intent on maintaining the rich heritage and tradition that they are ready Even the most gifted Kilkenny hurlers have served lengthy apprenticeships; Richie Hogan being the obvious case study.

Hogan’s relevance to the Kilkenny cause shouldn’t be underestimated, with retirements and others convalescing Brian Cody’s starting XV he was the marquee name in the Cats’ attack at Salthill. Galway had Greg Lally, emboldened by a productive club campaign with Gort, anchoring the defence, against Hogan's unfussy brilliance. It was one of those rare occasions when both players could trot away contented by how they hurled. Hogan had nine possessions clipping two points form play, but Lally also impressed and will get another few spins at number 6 against Cork and Dublin.

As Division 1A of the Allianz Hurling League enters a critical phase possibilities exist for the six busy counties involved. Undoubtedly things can alter quickly, but as Kilkenny’s gradually beef up their panel again whoever beats them in spring or summer will earn it. Galway did, but whether they can do so when the stakes are piled seriously high is an entirely different proposition.