Hurling & Camogie

Galway devastated as Kilkenny nick last-gasp win in Leinster hurling final

Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley (18) celebrates his late goal which won Sunday's Leinster SHC final against Galway at Croke Park
Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley (18) celebrates his late goal which won Sunday's Leinster SHC final against Galway at Croke Park

Leinster SHC final

Kilkenny 4-21 Galway 2-26

IN all of the hoopla over Derek Lyng taking charge of Kilkenny and talk of uncovering fresh talent, Cillian Buckley wasn’t a player who’d got much air time.

Closing in on his 31st birthday and plagued by injuries, the three-time All-Ireland winner was reduced to the role of impact sub. But what a sub. And what an impact he made on this Leinster final.

Brought on in the 58th minute, just as Kilkenny were in the throes of a mini-collapse, his dramatic stoppage-time goal sealed the four-in-a-row for the Cats. Turns out it was his first senior goal for the county.

As if to underline just how long he’s been soldiering for Kilkenny, Buckley was a playing colleague when Henry Shefflin won his last of 10 All-Ireland medals with Kilkenny in 2014.

Almost a decade on, Buckley was swamped and swallowed up by celebrating team-mates after his epic 76th-minute match-winner at Croke Park, while Galway manager Shefflin looked on with a face like thunder.

A couple of minutes earlier, it had looked like Shefflin was on the way to his most significant win yet with Galway. They had fought back from eight points down in the 50th minute to lead by two and with the five minutes of stoppage time allotted by referee Sean Stack up, only seconds stood between Galway and a win to highlight their All-Ireland credentials.

Then Buckley struck, leaving Galway in a seriously difficult spot in the All-Ireland race and with no more room for error. They will face a likely All-Ireland quarter-final tie against Tipperary in a fortnight. Beyond that, Limerick will await the winner.

Padraic Mannion will curse his own part in the frantic finale. Doing his best to clear the danger deep in his own defence, Mannion booted the sliotar as far as he could but it went straight to Buckley who raced goalwards, stepped around TJ Brennan and blasted low to the corner of Eanna Murphy’s net.

“Ah look, I think relief is the word after that,” smiled Lyng after the dust had settled.

“I thought we deserved something out of the game. I thought it would have been hard luck for us to lose it. I’m just thrilled for the group that they kept fighting and going to the end.

“I’m particularly delighted for some of the subs that came in and had a big impact. Cillian Buckley, I’m delighted for him personally because he’s just so dedicated to the game and is a leader within that group. It was a great way for him to finish off that Leinster final. But yeah, just absolute relief at the end.”

Kilkenny subs fired 2-4 in total. Walter Walsh, an early replacement for injured goalscorer Martin Keoghan, scored 1-2. They got a scoring return from Padraig Walsh and young Billy Drennan too. Galway got a goal from substitute Jason Flynn but lacked the same sort of punch from their bench.

They had enough in the 18 players that did see action to win though. Conor Whelan was man of the match and struck 1-6 from play. Kevin Cooney came roaring into the game in the closing minutes as they turned that eight-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Evan Niland struck 0-12 overall for Galway but delivered in open play too and Brian Concannon stepped up in the more difficult moments late on.

Shefflin was so sick afterwards that he gave the national media the slip. It was presumably too painful a post-mortem and maybe he didn’t have the answers for how they actually lost anyway.

It was a difficult game to make sense of with Galway striking six points in almost as many minutes to open up an early five-point lead.

With Cathal Mannion back in the team after a hamstring injury, they finished the first half strongly too yet were still only level at half-time, 1-12 to Kilkenny’s 2-9.

Whelan pinched Galway’s goal after a mix up in Kilkenny’s defence involving Tommy Walsh and Paddy Deegan. Keogan had earlier hit the Cats goal and his replacement, Walter Walsh, grabbed the second.

Without Adrian Mullen (thumb) and Mikey Carey (illness), Kilkenny summoned a savage third quarter that left them on the cusp of victory and a 75th Leinster title.

David Blanchfield, released from chasing Conor Whelan around Croke Park, fetched on the right wing and laid off to Butler for Kilkenny’s third goal.

Cian Kenny, Reid, Cody and the excellent John Donnelly added points and before Galway knew it, they trailed by eight, 3-17 to 1-15.

Flynn’s 50th-minute goal got Galway firing and believing. Two back-to-back Whelan points added further fuel to the comeback.

Kilkenny led by one entering stoppage-time but three Galway scores in a row from Cooney, Niland and Concannon appeared to seal it for the westerners.

Their fourth title and first since 2018 was there for the taking. Before Buckley snatched it away with that dramatic cameo.

Kilkenny E Murphy; M Butler (1-0), H Lawlor, T Walsh; D Blanchfield (0-1), P Deegan, D Corcoran; C Fogarty, C Kenny (0-2); T Phelan, J Donnelly (0-2), TJ Reid (0-9, 6f); B Ryan, E Cody (0-3), M Keoghan (1-0)

Subs W Walsh (1-2) for Keoghan 18, P Walsh (0-1) for Fogarty 52, C Buckley (1-0) for Corcoran 58, T Clifford for Phelan 61, B Drennan (0-1) for Ryan 68

Galway E Murphy; J Grealish, P Mannion, D Morrissey; G McInerney, D Burke, F Burke; C Mannion (0-1), J Cooney (0-1); T Monaghan, E Niland (0-12, 8f), C Whelan (1-6); B Concannon (0-3), C Cooney, K Cooney (0-3)

Subs J Flynn (1-0) for Monaghan 47, S Linnane for C Cooney 60, TJ Brennan for Morrissey 64.

Referee S Stack (Dublin)