Thursday, 12 November 2020, 17.00
Galway are the surprise package of the championship so far, dismantling Wexford and looking entirely comfortable in themselves.
This is a Galway team under management who've not previously handled a senior inter-county team, one that didn't even get a full league campaign wherein to learn the ropes, and who took over a team three years on from their All-Ireland win, in theory, aging and ailing. Alas, Galway walked through Wexford, playing silky hurling, and made them look decidedly rough and ready.
Image: Gearóid McInerney gathering possession.
Eanna Murphy in goal looked calm, confident, secure, and has the look of a 10-year keeper, which is a solid rock on which to build foundations. Galway, as a county renowned for chopping and changing goalkeepers, should be in good stead with Murphy. In Daithí Burke's absence, Gearóid McInerney slotted into full-back with ease, and Fintan Burke was excellent at centre-back, as if ciotóg defenders are plentiful out west. Joseph Cooney is more comfortable in the half-back line than half-forward, while the Mannion brothers are two of the most skillful players in the game.
In the forward line, Joe Canning, arguably the best hurler of all time, can still do it, while Conor Whelan is flying (as always), Jason Flynn, albeit inconsistent, requires very close attention, and Brian Concannon looks like a guy who enjoys his hurling and just loves to score.
Image: Joe Canning and Conor Fogarty.
Kilkenny are in transition. Their strength comes from their experienced, proven players. Eoin Murphy is as good a keeper as ever played, Padraig Walsh is a class defender, while TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly are the familiar threat up front. In addition, Cillian Buckley is an excellent athlete and a fine hurler, but probably best deployed at wing back, while Conor Fogarty is a tough, hardworking midfielder, and Walter Walsh offers variety, height, and the ability to pick off a couple of loping points.
Otherwise, Kilkenny are threadbare for top-class players. Richie Hogan is coming to the end of his career and can offer cameos off the bench, albeit sublime, poetic cameos from one of the maestros of the game. A famous win last year against Limerick gave this Kilkenny team a boost, but that was more of an ambush than a predicable win. Kilkenny went nine points clear midway thorough the first half only to be reeled in over the next 50 minutes, and if the game went on any longer, the power of Limerick's inertia was sure to win it for them.
Prediction: Galway will win by 5+ points, and they'll start to take on the look of challengers to Limerick.