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King plans downfall of kith and kin

Galway manager Henry Shefflin is this weekend plotting the downfall of both kith and kin, as Kilkenny aim for a Leinster four-in-a-row

Galway manager Henry Shefflin is this weekend plotting the downfall of both kith and kin, as Kilkenny aim for a Leinster four-in-a-row.

Henry Shefflin knows everything there is to know about these Kilkenny hurlers.

That must represent a serious advantage, and indeed it was a hurdle he faced in his last outing when Micheal Donoghue was able to use his knowledge of Galway against his native county.

There’s an old saying about researching an opponent, which amounts to something in the line of ‘we’re going to know the colour of his underpants’.

The Tribe are familiar with the key names in the Kilkenny ranks, and perhaps the most dangerous weapon these days is Eoin Cody.

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Given that Shefflin is his uncle, there’s a fair chance that not only will he know the colour of Cody’s underpants, but he may even have bought them for him for Christmas.

Adrian Mullen’s broken thumb complicates Derek Lyng’s hopes this season and TJ Reid, brilliant as he may be, cannot be expected to play a starring role for 70 minutes in big games as he approaches his 36th birthday.

Economy of effort is something that has come into the 2015 Hurler of the Year’s game; knowing when to conserve, and when to hunt.

Once again, Shefflin knows Reid as well as any man can. So much of this Kilkenny team is made up for Ballyhale Shamrocks players that the Galway manager either played with or led to back-to-back club All-Irelands.

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If anyone understands how to get at Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran, Cody, Reid, and Co, it is Shefflin. It is a slightly uncomfortable reality for the lattermost, but last year suggests he is over that.

The handshake drama with Brian Cody brought hype to a level he might never have expected, and any turbulence thereafter will feel like a smooth ride by comparison.

When it comes down to it, this is a project with Galway. Theirs is a county that always produces quality hurlers and too rarely do they cash in those chips.

One senior All-Ireland title since 1988 is a shocking return when one considers the players who have worn the maroon shirt.

The teams drew when they met at Nowlan Park during the Leinster round-robin and the ruthless streak of the Galway manager was in evidence.

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Conor Cooney and Conor Whelan were not getting the job done, and both were whipped in favour of youngster Liam Collins and Declan McLoughlin, both of whom scored to rescue a point.

Whelan has had some great battles with Huw Lawlor in recent times and the latter has held the edge. The Kinvara man knows that the O’Loughlin Gaels octopus will be all over him once more at Croke Park, and he has to figure out how to deal with that.

While Galway fell 12 points behind Dublin in their last outing, they did show seirous mettle to go in front before the game ended in a draw.

Once more, Cooney and Whelan were subdued but Evan Niland showed that he has more than free-taking in his locker as the heat was ramped up, while Kevin Cooney, Daithi Burke and Joseph Cooney showed good form.

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There’s an argument to be made that the Dubs have a stronger back line than The Cats which could give the Tribe more room to manoeuvre at the top end of the pitch on Sunday.

Shefflin’s side will need to be less generous in defence than they were against Dublin as Eanna Murphy and TJ Brennan mistakes led to majors for Donoghue’s side.

When you look at Kilkenny this year, their round-robin scoring return says ten goals in five outings but that stat is skewed somewhat by half coming against an Antrim who were so porous at the back, and the rest in a strange game in Wexford where the hosts were fighting for the lives.

No goals against Westmeath, Galway and Dublin is a slight concern for Lyng, but winning is the bottom line and his side have done enough.

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With concerns over Mullen, Mikey Butler and Mossy Keoghan — all of whom went off early against the Models — we may soon find out if the Under-20 brigade that won top honours last year are ready to step up.

We will see doggedness from Kilkenny, they should have a psychological edge as they chase a Leinster four-in-a-row, and the two-headed beast that is Cody and Reid gives them the edge in attack.

Shefflin is one of the game’s great forwards and he will be wondering if a day will come when Whelan, Cooney and Brian Concannon will all hit turbo at once. If they do, Galway can claim this title for the first time since 2018.

At the expense of Shefflin’s home county, superstars of his home parish, and even his own relation. For 70 minutes, none of that can matter.

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Click below to see all the facts and figures of Galway v Kilkenny

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