by Séamus Leonard
Kilkenny’s vice-like grip on the Leinster title is set to remain as tight as ever, unless Galway can produce something extraordinary at Croke Park today (4.00pm).
In what is Galway’s fourth season in the Leinster Championship, this will be their second final appearance.
Unsurprisingly, Kilkenny were also the opponents in 2010, with the Cats running out comfortable 1-19 to 1-12 winners. But then the Cats are always in the final.
They have been crowned provincial champions almost every year since 1998, with the sole exception coming in 2004 when they were shocked by Wexford in the semi-final.
But in the seven finals since then, the Noresiders have won every final, with their average margin of victory coming out at over ten points.
They could be forgiven, then, for taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to Leinster.
But their 18-point demolition of Dublin in this year’s semi-final offered proof - were it needed - that Brian Cody’s charges don’t do half-hearted.
Admittedly, the Dubs were inexcusably bad on the day. But even the most ardent Dublin supporter would struggle to argue that Kilkenny could have been bettered that day, regardless of the quality of performance the Metropolitans produced.
But this Kilkenny side is not entirely invincible.
Tipperary proved that in the 2010 All-Ireland final, and Dublin provided corroborative evidence in the Allianz League final in 2011.
And Galway are one of the few sides capable of following suit.
While their inconsistency must be stress-inducing for their supporters, the Tribesmen do have the wherewithal to down the Cats on a one-off occasion.
And the signs have been positive in recent times. They overcame Dublin to retain their Division 1A status in a league relegation play-off, and followed that up with comprehensive Championship wins over Westmeath and Offaly.
The most pleasing aspect about the latter victory was the sight of Joe Canning in full flow again.
The Portumna clubman may have been a bit wayward with his free-taking, but he showed no ill-effects from a shoulder injury.
Defender David Collins is also back in the mix after a lay-off with an ankle injury, so manager Anthony Cunningham will have pretty much a full squad to choose from.
Kilkenny are sweating over the availability of JJ Delaney, Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy, although captain Eoin Larkin is likely to start.
Hard as it seems to believe, Kilkenny will be beaten in Leinster some day. It might even happen before Halley’s Comet makes its next appearance.