'We have a man down on the ground here in trouble' declared a slightly incredulous Marty Morrissey. His bewilderment is understandable. After all, the game was less than two minutes old. Galway's Ger Mahon lay crumpled in a heap after an off the ball incident. An agitated Eddie Brennan pleaded with referee Diarmuid Kirwan, who was busy fishing for his notebook. He took his name, flashed a yellow card and allowed the game to continue. Kilkenny with the early marker.
"We met a forward line and a team that were turning into a fuckin' animal. Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Eoin Larkin, Eddie Brennan... Michael Fennelly wasn't even making that team! The calibre of player, they all went on to win hurler of the year awards. It almost kick-started them for another three or four years. They just had an edge and a hunger in every league or championship game. They wanted to win by 10, 15 points. They were so ruthless."
Tony Óg Regan will mind the house, or so the saying went in West Galway. The Rahoon Newcastle man spent 11 years with the Galway hurlers manning the edge of the square. A teak-tough full-back known for his excellent man-marking skills. In 2006 he was handed the unenviable task of curtailing Henry Shefflin and co. as Galway faced Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Even around the fixture, there was bite. I remember the year before it we had played the All Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park and that was a big boost to us getting in there playing Tipperary and winning it. We were all expecting to be playing again in Croke Park in '06 but Kilkenny pushed really hard to get the fixture on in Thurles, because they knew it suited them and we didn’t have a great record down there.
Then they got the match on at 7 o'clock on a Saturday evening which was hard for Galway supporters. Most Kilkenny fans are only an hour on the road to Thurles whereas we'd have more. From the west side of the county it is two hours or so. It is difficult for family and kids going down. You definitely felt that atmosphere going into the ground. Kilkenny were thirsty for blood and it definitely came across in the first couple of minutes anyway. They were riled up liked I hadn’t seen in a couple of years playing them.
Galway play Kilkenny in Semple Stadium today in the Leinster final replay. This weekend Croke Park was preoccupied with hosting one Michael Buble, so a team from Connacht and a team from Leinster will each other in Munster. Regular fans of this sport will tell you these things are rarely straightforward.
The last time the sides faced each other in Thurles was 2006 in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Galway approached that fixture full of confidence, having beaten Kilkenny in 2005's semi-final at Croke Park. They met a Kilkenny side who were damn sure they wouldn't let that happen again.
Once we knew it was Thurles, it plays on your mind. Your poor previous record in quarter-finals there, it had been really poor for us. We had taken an awful beating off Kilkenny in Thurles in '04 as well. It plays on your mind. We would have felt confident if we played in Croke Park after beating them last year and our record the year before. That would be a good shot in the arm, to get them in Croker again. These are little advantages that do play on your mind.
Tony Óg's passion is Galway hurling. It is obvious throughout the conversation. The joy at last year's Liam McCarthy triumph is still evident as he hails the boost it gave to the county. There is an unmistakable hint of resentment still lingering surrounding the '06 fixture but clarity of thought in expressing where it was won and lost. Kilkenny were ferocious and war-ready. A lack of competition in Connacht meant Galway went straight into the group stages alongside Laois, Antrim and Limerick.
We just didn’t have great preparation going into the quarter-final and Kilkenny again were battle hardened. We felt confident going down after beating them the previous two years but they just hit the ground running. Still, after 20 minutes it was even enough, it was five or six points each. Then it started to click and like Kilkenny do in those periods they can fuckin' put you away in 10 minutes. They got 2-4, 2-5 before half time and went up by 12 points.
Much of Kilkenny's drive stems from the man at the helm. Twenty years after his appointment, Brian Cody perseveres and is once again plotting the downfall of the rivals in the west and current All-Ireland champions. His ruthlessness was not just reserved for match day. Kilkenny did everything in their power to get the right venue, the right throw-in time, the right starting team, even if it meant Cody's own son, Donnacha, was dropped. It finished 3-14 to 2-22 but the writing was on the wall by half-time with Kilkenny 13 points up.
Even then, they didn't ease up. Shefflin continued to run riot and finished with 11 points. Kilkenny were down a man for the majority of the second half after Derek Lyng was sent off for pulling across Richie Murray. When players became entangled in those games, more often than not a Kilkenny man was coming out on top.
2006 is Thurles was a real statement of intent from Kilkenny, but Óg Regan is confident this Galway team will have no reservations about the venue.
Back then, you could see it. They went on to win four in a row. I think the current Galway group have the experience of Thurles and winning. They beat Cork in that quarter-final in 2015. They are a lot more tactically and mentally prepared for these kinds of challenges. Semple Stadium? I don’t think it will have any bearing on the current group.
Today the two heavyweights face off at distinctly different moments in their development. Galway are the defending champions, settled in their starting team, confident in their approach. This is about proving they are a powerful juggernaut capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the country.
Kilkenny are a new side, reinvigorated by the ardor of youth whilst still propped up by certain old-reliable veterans. The dust has just settled on an attritional affair from last week. For both teams, this week is about proving you can box as well as brawl. Whoever gets that balance right between steel and skill is likely to emerge victorious.
Regardless of the security net offered by the back door, Tony Óg Regan is adamant victory is a must for Galway.
It is all down to form at this time of year. What you did last year or last Sunday, that doesn't count. It’s a fresh challenge and if you don’t turn up and produce you’ll be whipped. Then you have a week turnaround against a hungry Limerick... this is crucial. Absolutely crucial.