By Séamus Leonard
They are already recognised as the greatest hurling team of all time, but Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling decider offers Kilkenny the opportunity to further cement their place in the history books.
The Cats may have had their ‘Drive for Five’ halted by Tipperary in 2010, but if anything the defeat only spurred them on and they had their revenge on the Premier County in last year’s decider.
The victory over Tipp in this year’s semi-final means that the Noresiders are now contesting their seventh consecutive All-Ireland final, which illustrates just how consistent Brian Cody’s men have been since 2006.
This year has not been all plain sailing for Kilkenny, however, and their 10-point reverse to Galway in the Leinster final was as big an upset as you could wish for in GAA circles.
But it was not unprecedented. Tipp proved in the 2010 All-Ireland final, and Dublin showed again in the 2011 Allianz League final, that when Kilkenny fail to turn up they can find themselves on the end of a heavy beating.
While Kilkenny have distanced themselves from any suggestions that they were compromised by injuries in the provincial hiding from Galway, there is no doubt that the absence of first choice midfield pairing Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice left the Cats exposed in the engine room.
Rice came on in the second half of that game, but he will play no part in Sunday’s encounter after he sustained a horrific finger injury during the semi.
The Carrickshock clubman’s finger is reported to have been fractured in seven places, and he is likely to be replaced by Cillian Buckley.
Aside from Rice, the defending All-Ireland champions have no injury concerns.
Galway also have no worries on the injury front, with Cyril Donnellan back to full fitness after chipping a bone in his elbow prior to the semi-final victory over Cork.
The win over the Rebels was close to the perfect result for Galway. They won, but left more than enough room for improvement that complacency was never going to be an issue.
Another positive for the Tribesmen was the 0-22 to 0-17 scoreline, as Anthony Cunningham’s charges have a propensity to leak goals. And while Cork are not the most potent side in the land, it was still an achievement by the Galway rearguard to keep the Leesiders at bay.
And with Donnellan back and running from deep, the Leinster champions will have an added goal threat they were missing the last day out.
Essentially, this game will be decided by which Galway side turns up.
You know what you are getting with Kilkenny. The reason their Leinster final collapse was so shocking is that it rarely happens that they are so well beaten.
Galway have long been on the other end of the spectrum, capable of being fantastic one day and pure poison the next.
But Cunningham appears to have cultivated the consistency his many predecessors failed to.
The big question is can Galway reproduce their Leinster final performance? This is still an incredible Kilkenny outfit, but they did not have enough to cope with Galway at full pelt in July, and they probably still wouldn’t at this juncture.
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin is aiming to land his ninth Celtic Cross on Sunday, but it is the performance of the pretender to his throne - Joe Canning - that will tell the tale of this particular game.
Canning has all the qualities Shefflin possesses. But what he doesn’t have is the Ballyhale’s man medal collection.
He may still be only 23, but the sooner Canning starts winning All-Irelands, the more he’ll have to look back on at the end of his career.
Believing you can beat Kilkenny is half the battle when you are facing the Cats, and Galway should have more than enough faith after their Leinster heroics.