LEINSTER SHC Round 4

Sunday
Kilkenny v Galway, Nowlan Park, 2pm

TV
Kilkenny v Galway live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player. Live overseas on GAAGO. Highlights on The Sunday Game at 9.30pm. 

ONLINE
Live blog on RTÉ.ie and the RTÉ News Now App from 1pm on Sunday.

RADIO
Live commentary and updates on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport.

WEATHER
Showers will be widespread during the afternoon before dying out again in the evening. Highest temperatures 13 to 16 degrees; winds light and variable. For more see met.ie

Heavyweights collide

These two teams have faced each other across a field on many grand occasions down the years. The Westerners clearly held the whip hand in 2018 but their form is looking shaky this year. 

Kilkenny, meanwhile, are chugging along nicely. Their league was ropey, though that counts for less now than it ever did, and they entered the home game against Dublin with a sizable injury-list. 

The self-professed smart money was piled on Dublin but Cody's men made mugs of the punters once more with one of the least surprising second-half comebacks we've seen. 

And now the cavalry are beginning to return in time for the visit of the reigning provincial champions.

Two-time All-Star Cillian Buckley is back and more or less certain to start on Sunday. Feted goalkeeper Eoin Murphy is even on the brink of a return after his leg break but Darren Brennan, whose puckout stats have been highly impressive, will likely retain his place. 

Galway's form has perplexed observers. After four seasons of impressive consistency, could they be returning to their previous role as hurling's version of the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma?

When you break down their various issues, things become somewhat less mysterious. Obviously, they're being forced to do without Joe Canning in Championship for the first time since he spectacularly broke onto the scene in 2008.

Amazingly, the first full championship game against top-tier opposition that he missed was Galway's one-point win over Dublin in Salthill last year - and that was a dead rubber game. Conor Whelan aside, it appears that the Galway forward line is struggling under the burden of having to pick up the slack in his absence. 

But there are other concerns. Two of their key ball-winners in the forward line, Joseph Cooney and Johnny Glynn, have spent most of the year abroad and have very little hurling under their belt. Daithí Burke - who's been almost Tommy Walsh-like in his accumulation of All-Stars - spent the spring playing football for Corofin and sat out the Carlow game with injury.  

Joe Canning on the sideline during the Galway-Wexford game

David Burke (2017 All-Ireland final Man of the Match) and Conor Cooney (2017 Leinster final Man of the Match) spent the spring as part of St Thomas's charge to the All-Ireland final but neither looked particularly sharp against Wexford. 

Gearóid McInerney, the unanimous choice for 2017 Hurler of the Year among the Sunday Game panel, looks nowhere near as dominant as he did two seasons ago.

Amid all this talk, rumours swirled this week that Galway were going to name Canning in the matchday squad.  

Michael Duignan's verdict: "I'm sure the Galway players are fed up of hearing that they have to step up without Joe Canning but they have to step up without Joe Canning. That's the bottom line and they're not doing it. 

"I think there will be a better performance from Galway - better than I've seen in quite a while - but I just think Kilkenny at home have been going really well. 

"They've played a round of club matches down there. They're relentless. Everyone else is calling off matches, they're playing matches and they're getting players back from injury. 

"I think it'll be a really good game on Sunday but I think Kilkenny will get over the line."

Last five championship meetings:
2018: Galway 1-28 Kilkenny 3-15 (Leinster final replay)
2018: Galway 0-18 Kilkenny 0-18 (Leinster final)
2018: Galway 1-22 Kilkenny 2-11 (Leinster round robin)
2016: Kilkenny 1-26 Galway 0-22 (Leinster final)
2015: Kilkenny 1-22 Galway 1-18 (All-Ireland final)

Follow all the hurling action via our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, listen to live national commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 and watch live and exclusive TV coverage of Kilkenny v Galway and Limerick v Clare on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player this Sunday