GAA Expert & Columnist
Galway and Kilkenny have bigger fish to fry than a shared National Hurling League title, says Jamesie O'Connor
Sky Sports hurling pundit Jamesie O'Connor examines Galway and Kilkenny after they topped their respective Allianz Hurling League groups, and ponders how the Tribesmen and the Cats are shaping up for the Leinster Championship
Last Updated: 15/06/21 4:11pm
Galway and Kilkenny are National Hurling League 'joint champions' for 2021.
A potential championship meeting would act as a final for the competition, but I don't think Shane O'Neill nor Brian Cody will be getting too excited about early season honours.
That silverware might carry a bit more weight for other teams, but the Tribesmen and the Cats have bigger fish to fry this summer.
Given Galway's experience and the age profile of their team, they are not going to rejoice about league or Leinster medals. It is all about the big one.
Similarly, TJ Reid, Cillian Buckley, and Co are targeting All-Ireland honours this year.
Nonetheless, the last few weeks have shown that both counties are entering the championship in good stead.
Subscribe to GAA alerts!
We'll send you push notifications so you'll receive all of the big GAA news!
Galway beginning to click
Shane O'Neill endured a disrupted first year at the helm.
Fintan Burke, Darren Morrissey, and Evan Niland are among the players who have broken into the starting team on his watch. But they did not have the benefit of a full league campaign in 2020, nor a circuit of challenge matches, to acclimatise to the heat of senior intercounty hurling.
Similarly, it takes time for a new manager to get his message across, and get them playing in a particular style.
Galway are clearly improving given those benefits this year.
Cathal Mannion has arguably been the player of the league. The more you see from him, the more you appreciate how much of a loss he was against Limerick last year.
Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon have formed a deadly partnership inside.
Daithi Burke played at centre-back and Gearoid McInerney at full-back against Cork on Sunday. They're going to be the spine of the team and they offered a strong, physical presence.
But more so than any of the top contenders barring perhaps Tipperary, Galway have a narrow window for success. Many of their protagonists have been around a long time. The window for that bunch of players is perhaps narrowing. There will be a big, big push to get it done this year.
The westerners await the winners of Dublin vs Antrim in the Leinster semi-final, and they will be hot favourites to return to a provincial decider.
Throughout the league campaign, I would say they have been as impressive as anybody.
Bumper day of hurling live on Sky Sports!
Galway vs Dublin/Antrim, Kilkenny vs Wexford/Laois, and Cork vs Limerick will be live on Sky Sports Arena on July 3!
Kilkenny embracing evolution
I was at Cusack Park on Saturday for Clare's win over Kilkenny. I don't think Cody will lose too much sleep over the result.
Granted, he won't be happy with conceding four goals. That doesn't happen very often to Kilkenny.
But Paddy Deegan giving up a penalty was a bit of a freak occurrence, and the Cats responded well to the Banner's two quickfire goals in the second half.
They needed a response, and they worked it well before Martin Keoghan found the net.
Kilkenny have always been up to date with the sport's latest tactical trends. There is no doubt that the Nore-siders are working the ball through the lines more this year.
They are clearly looking to engineer goals. It's certainly a different style of play. And they have the tools available if they want to go long.
However, the black and amber jersey does not hold the same fear factor for opponents as it once did. Limerick, Galway and several other top teams will feel Kilkenny are beatable.
Nonetheless, you would fancy them to overcome Wexford or Laois in the Leinster semi-final.
TJ Reid and Padraig Walsh were quiet by their own high standards on Saturday.
Walter Walsh looked like he needed the game-time. He picked up an injury in Ennis, but Cody will need him back to his best. John Donnelly is still to come back, Cillian Buckley and Conor Fogarty did not start against Clare.
Kilkenny are still a work in progress. But they have three weeks to get it right for the championship.
And nobody knows how to prepare a team right as well as Brian Cody. I have no doubt they will be ready for July 3.