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AI Final: Kilkenny 3-22, Galway 3-11   01/10/2012

PEERLESS KILKENNY WIN THEIR 34TH TITLE

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final:

Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11

Kilkenny are the 2012 GAA Hurling All-Ireland champions after beating Galway in a remarkable final replay at Croke Park on Sunday.

On a day of history at Headquarters, Kilkenny defeated Galway by eleven points, meaning Henry Shefflin picked up his ninth All-Ireland medal on the field of play, becoming the first man to do so. Noel Hickey has also been a part of all Kilkenny's All-Ireland triumphs since 2000, meaning he too has now won nine All-Ireland medals.

It was the ninth All-Ireland title of Brian Cody's reign, a record for a manager in GAA, and Kilkenny's 34th overall. A few of their players moved on to eight All-Ireland wins in the overall standings, bringing them way up towards the very top of the list.

Although Kilkenny were utterly dominant for the final 20 minutes, and were fully deserving of their big victory, the game could have developed quite differently if it wasn't for a crucial five minute period from the 47th to the 51st minute, which turned the tide irrevocably towards Brian Cody's side.

After 47 minutes, Kilkenny led by three points but Galway were coming back at them and were seriously threatening what had for a while looked like an unlikely comeback. Then, the ball came to Joe Canning. Canning lashed a brilliant shot at goal, but it clipped the right hand post, came out and was cleared by the Kilkenny defence.

Kilkenny went up the field immediately and got a point from Cillian Buckley to go four clear, and then in the next minute, Galway's Cyril Donnellan was sent off for an off the ball incident.

Suddenly, having been centimetres from being level, Galway were down to 14 men and were trailing Kilkenny by four points. Kilkenny hit the next four points to move eight clear, and there was no way back for Galway. On such things do the greatest of events hinge.

An incredible first half ended with Kilkenny four points in front, leading 1-11 to 2-4.

The first 15 minutes of the game gave little indication of the drama to come. A tense opening quarter ended with Kilkenny leading 0-3 to 0-2, with two Henry Shefflin frees and a fine score from newcomer Walter Walsh accounting for Kilkenny's scores. Galway's opening scores came from two Canning frees.

Then, an absolutely explosive two minutes unfolded in Croke Park, with the game utterly changed as a result. First, a long ball from Galway's Iarla Tannian towards the goal was flicked to the net by David Burke. The score came against the run of play as Kilkenny had been starting to dominate most of the exchanges, but it put the Tribesmen into the lead.

TJ Reid responded straightaway with a point for Kilkenny, but incredibly, Galway went straight up the field and struck a second goal. A long ball from Canning was exchanged between Cyril Donnellan and Damien Hayes before it came to David Burke again. Burke finished sweetly to the net to hit a second All-Ireland final goal in a minute. It made it 2-2 to 0-5, and suddenly, Galway were leading by three points.

But the drama went on. Kilkenny, no doubt affronted by the fact that they trailed by three points despite being the better team, charged up the field. Eoin Larkin had a goalbound shot blocked by James Skehill, but Richie Power made brilliant work to flick the ball to the net first time, and make it a draw game once again.

So after 20 minutes, it was Galway 2-2 Kilkenny 1-5, and it was hard to know where to start in analysing it, such was the level of drama and surprise and the speed with which it had all occurred. But then, Kilkenny finally made their dominance show. They smashed over six points without reply, and played probably the best 10 minutes of hurling they have played all season.

Eoin Larkin, Richie Power, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan all struck over classy efforts from play, while Shefflin hit the other two, one of them a fabulous score from distance under pressure.

Kilkenny then led by six points and were threatening to pull away from Galway completely, but fortunately for Anthony Cunningham's side, they hit the last two points of the half to go in just four behind at 1-11 to 2-4. Both came from placed balls from Canning, but one major blow for Galway at this point was the fact that goalkeeper James Skehill clearly couldn't continue, his dislocated shoulder casuing him serious problems.

He didn't come out for the second half and was replaced by Fergal Flannery. Kilkenny resumed where they left off in the second half, and Richie Hogan powered over a point to put five between them again.

However, Galway were slowly finding their feet in the game, and Andy Smith responded to Hogan's effort with his side's first point from play. Then, when Canning sent a wonderful sideline ball from the left off the post and over the bar, the Kilkenny lead was down to just three.

Then, those crucial four minutes which changed everything. Canning's beautiful shot seemed bound for the net, and for those few nanoseconds of flight, history looked like it was on his side. But it hit the post, up went Kilkenny and the gap was four again.

Donnellan's dismissal in the next minute was effectively the end of Galway then, because with Kilkenny playing so well, leading by four and having a numerical advantage as well, it was impossible to see past them.

And so it was. Michael Fennelly, the superb Walter Walsh and then Shefflin pointed to put Kilkenny eight points ahead and the game was gone for Anthony Cunningham's side.

After 59 minutes, the burly Walsh, who was making his championship debut at full-forward, completed a wonderful day for himself by flicking to the net after TJ Reid's shot had been blocked by Flannery.

That made it 2-19 to 2-8, and when Kieran Joyce sent over a brilliant point shortly afterwards, the gap was 12. Substitute Colin Fennelly then added a third goal for Kilkenny, to put a huge difference of 15 between them.

Galway didn't give up though, and fashioned a brilliant goal before the finish, substitute Jonathan Glynn firing into the top corner after doing very well to make space for himself.

It was consolation stuff though, and the final few minutes were savoured by the Kilkenny players, clearly aware of the scale of the achievement they were about to accomplish. Looking back to the half-time stage of the Leinster final against Galway, when they had been destroyed by the Tribesmen, it was incredible to conceive that they were now about to become All-Ireland champions against the same team just a few months later.

And inevitably, much of the attention at the final whistle centred on Shefflin. When the game was over, he sunk to his knees and looked up in wonder. Now he stood alone in the pantheon, just above all his other Kilkenny comrades, who set off to celebrate another All-Ireland success as if it was their first.

Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-9 (5f, 2 65), W Walsh 1-3, R Power 1-2, C Fennelly 1-0, R Hogan 0-3, TJ Reid 0-1, E Larkin 0-1, C Buckley 0-1, M Fennelly 0-1, K Joyce 0-1.

Scorers for Galway: J Canning 0-9 (5f, 1 65, 1 sl), D Burke 2-0, J Glynn 1-0, A Smith 0-1, T Óg Regan 0-1.

Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; M Fennelly, R Hogan; C Buckley, R Power, E Larkin (capt); TJ Reid, W Walsh, H Shefflin.

Subs: N Hickey for JJ Delaney (Blood sub, 49-62), C Fennelly for W Walsh (59), N Hickey for K Joyce (66), A Fogarty for TJ Reid (66).

Galway: J Skehill; J Coen, K Hynes, F Moore; N Donoghue, T Regan, D Collins; I Tannian, A Smith, D Burke, N Burke, C Donnellan; D Hayes, J Canning, J Regan.

Subs: J Cooney for N Donoghue (28), J Glynn for J Regan (34), F Flannery for J Skehill (HT), C Cooney for N Burke (53), D Glennon for A Smith (64).

Attendance: 82,274

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)

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