Cats sharpen claws for more success
JJ Delaney won his eighth All-Ireland medal while Walter Murphy won his first on Sunday, they tell IAN O’RIORDANhow Kilkenny’s success evolves
JJ DELANEY is sipping on a bottle of Coke, talking about winning his eighth All-Ireland medal, while just over his shoulder Walter Walsh is signing the jersey of a young Kilkenny supporter, trying to surmise what it means to win his first.
The constant evolution of Kilkenny hurling condensed into this one scene – and the heavy sense of déjà vu all over again that now comes with the start of their All-Ireland homecoming.
Delaney was just 19 when he made his senior debut, in 2001, and won his first All-Ireland a year later, in 2002: Walsh is a little older, at 21, but has started at the very top, his stunning debut in Sunday’s victory over Galway capped off with a man-of-the-match award, and the accolades of all his more experienced team-mates.
“Every year you start out, you just want to be in the All-Ireland final,” says Delaney. “But there were a few lads on the panel that got their first medal on Sunday, and you really are trying to get them their first medal, as much as you are trying to get another one for yourself.
“Because when we started off, there were lads like Peter Barry, DJ Carey, who were bursting themselves to get us a medal as well. You really are trying to get it for the panel. Because the first one is always the sweetest one, you’ll never forget that. So the likes of Wally (Walter) Walsh there, he had a dream debut, it’s just great for him.”
In ways Delaney helped speed up Walsh’s evolution, marking him at Kilkenny training in recent weeks: when manager Brian Cody realised how much of a handful the youngster from Tullogher Rosbercon was proving, suddenly starting him in an All-Ireland final seemed perfectly natural.
“That was it,” confirms Delaney. “He’s so quick, so big, and he also showed well for the under-21s, a leader for them as well. I still remember my own debut, looking around at the players you were looking at a year before, on the TV, or going to the game, the likes of Peter and DJ and these lads and you’re saying to yourself ‘I shouldn’t really be here’.
“I wasn’t hurling for the league that year, so my first start for Kilkenny was in the championship too. It was sink or swim. But you’d be saying to Walter before, just to ‘keep doing what you have been in training, it’s just another match.’ He was showing form and he stepped up and he was unbelievable. The confidence Walter has at the moment is going to go through the roof and it’s great for him.”
Like anyone, it seems, on the Kilkenny panel, Delaney wasn’t sure of his place until Cody flipped the chart at training last Friday evening: he noticed his own name first, but there was no surprise in seeing the name Walter Walsh either.
“Sure he was showing form, and Brian Cody is true to his word about playing who shows form in training. He has said through the years, that if you’re here 10 years or two weeks it doesn’t make a difference, if you are showing form you are going to be playing and he stuck to his word and it paid off on Sunday.
“Because you really don’t know. They flip the chart, and you’re looking for your name, and after that you look at the rest of the team after that.”
Delaney played most of Sunday’s game at full back, where he ended up the victim of the reckless swing from Galway’s Cyril Donnellan, which required five stitches to the head, before he could resume his duties. He insists there was nothing malicious about it, and that Donnellan and himself spoke afterwards.