On Sunday next, Galway and Kilkenny will meet for the third time in the 2012 Senior Hurling Championship, Joe Canning’s late equalizer insuring that we will be treated to the first All-Ireland final replay since 1959. Immediately after the final whistle had sounded, “fans” took to social networking sites and vented their anger at the GAA for not playing extra time. They accused the GAA of money-grabbing and slated the referee for awarding Galway that all-important late free and for blowing up once the resultant puck out had been taken.
While it is understandable that another weekend in the capital is not a luxury that everyone can afford in these harsh economic times, it is hard to comprehend people’s anger at the situation. The GAA is an amateur organization; every penny earned during the summer goes back into the organization, the bulk of which goes to the grassroots. Do people really expect the GAA not to avail of the opportunity to make huge money from sponsorships and show off its flagship event one more time? The GAA have an outstanding product, and if they can fill Croke Park again they would be foolish not to. The organization could have charged €80 per ticket again for the replay, but instead are charging only €50, with terrace tickets a bargain at €25. You would be hard pressed to find €25 tickets to a sporting event of this caliber anywhere in the world. Not that this will stop the Irish public from complaining – an activity that we as a nation seem to have perfected.
The game itself was no classic. The first half was a cagey affair, with the ball bypassing the middle third for much of it. The second half was more free-flowing and the climax exciting. Even when you allow for the fact that the action on the field was overly tense at times, as a spectacle the game was light-years ahead of anything most other sports have to offer. The GAA remains one of the only codes where the spectator comes away from it truly feeling that they owe the participants something. The heart and commitment on display from both teams was a joy to watch, and it was a privilege to witness these two teams doing battle. I for one cannot wait to see the replay, as one RTE pundit so aptly put it: “the summer has been extended by three weeks”.
While Kilkenny have failed to defeat Galway on both occasions they have met in Croke Park this year, the Cats have been installed as favorites for the replay. This is no surprise. Most people will tell you that Galway were well on top of Kilkenny during the first half of the drawn game. It is true that Galway had the shackles on the Kilkenny forwards for much of the first half, and indeed continued to stifle them for the remainder of the game. It is easy then to forget that the reigning All-Ireland champions dominated the first ten minutes of play before Canning splendidly goaled. This was followed by a great point from the Portumna man which swung the momentum in Galway’s favour.
The consensus among the analysts at half time was that Kilkenny, trailing by five points, were in big trouble. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Kilkenny clawed their way back little by little in the second half. Led by Henry Shefflin, they outclassed Galway for much of it. Were it not for Niall Burke’s goal after a period of twenty minutes without a Galway score, and an excellent save from James Skehill to deny Colin Fennelly a certain goal, Kilkenny might have ran out convincing winners.
However, the fact that they have now played Kilkenny twice in this year’s championship and remain undefeated must count for something. Great credit must go to the Galway management and players for their mammoth efforts in both games.
However, if Kilkenny deploy Shefflin at number eleven from the get-go and Galway fail to get off to a good start, it will be hard to see them beating Kilkenny next Sunday. Prediction: Kilkenny by at least four points.