All-Ireland champions of 2017 Galway silenced those who thought they might be losing their zest when they secured a narrow win over Kilkenny in a dramatic Leinster SHC encounter.
The result leaves both Galway and Kilkenny with hope of making the Leinster final, and now it all comes down to their final away games against Dublin (for Galway) and Wexford (for Kilkenny) next weekend.
The contest ended as 14 men (Galway) against 13 (Kilkenny) after the home side lost defender Paul Murphy and attacker Ger Aylward to two yellow cards each. Galway’s John Hanbury was shown a straight red.
The breeze-assisted Cats chased it to the bitter end, shooting the closing five points as they gave their all to rescue the game. There was a long delay before their second last point from a free by TJ Reid, and some felt not all the additional time was played in the end.
Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, refused to offer an opinion on the matter afterwards.
The hurling was immense from the throw-in, with big hits, big scores, tactical switches all over and passion oozing down from the stands and terraces. This was Championship fare at its very best.
The scores were level six times during the half, and both sides had their moments in front. If there was one man who stood out above the rest it was Galway wing-forward, Cathal Mannion who shot six points from play.
The buzzing crowd of 15,788 enjoyed six scores alone during the opening 10 minutes alone, equally divided.
Conor Whelan then ploughed through two Kilkenny tackles to fire home a Galway goal on their way to a best of half lead of 1-5 to 0-3 in thee 13th minute.
Kilkenny roared back, and during the following three minutes they turned the tables with a goal from TJ Reid to lead by 1-6 to 1-5.
Wind-backed Galway hit the front with a beautiful minor from distance by Mannion in the 20th minute.
The Cats responded though and earned parity on two occasions before late points from Whelan, Mannion and Brian Concannon, against one reply from Billy Ryan, left Galway leading by 1-13 to 1-10 at half-time.
The leaders didn’t lose any ground in the new half, and when Brian Concannon goaled in the 49th minute they were 2-19 to 1-14 in front.
Kilkenny just refused to lie down, and when TJ Reid made a goal out of nothing in the 58th minute it was game on again, 2-22 to 2-17.
The cheers had barely died down when Johnny Coen, taking a pass from man of the match Mannion, rattled the home net to widen the divide to 3-20 to 2-17.
It was that sort of game, but Galway’s power and pace were huge factors. Kilkenny put their heart and soul into the final effort, but they couldn’t save the day and suffered a first Championship defeat at Nowlan Park since 1949.
Galway: C Callanan; J Hanbury, D Burke, A Harte; P Mannion, G McInerney, J Cooney; S Loftus, D Burke (0-1); C Mannion (0-8, one free); J Glynn (0-1), A Tuohey (0-2); C Whelan (1-2), J Flynn (0-3, two frees), B Concannon (1-2).
Subs: J Coen (1-1)for S Loftus ht; D Glennon for Tuohey 58th min; N Burke for Concannon 63rd min; S Linnane for Flynn 71st min.
Kilkenny: D Brennan (0-1, free); P Murphy, H Lawlor, T Walsh; C Fogarty, P Walsh, P Deegan (0-1); A Murphy (0-1), R Leahy (0-2); A Mullen, B Ryan (0-3), TJ Reid (2-11, six frees, one 65); B Sheehan (0-2), C Fennelly (0-1), G Aylward.
Subs: R Hogan for Mullen 31st min; J Holden for T Walsh 44th min; J Cleere for A Murphy 49th min; J. Donnelly for B. Sheehan 58th min
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)