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.
“If you’d have lost it might have been a lot worse, but it was nothing, really, a spur of the moment thing, but I suppose it did help us in the end. I was gone for ten minutes and I didn’t see that but when I came back out we were after building on our lead. It was great to come back out with that cushion.
“And I didn’t see it then or since, but I was talking to him (Cyril Donnellan) after the match, and there was no animosity or anything. It was just a spur of the moment thing. He didn’t apologise. There was nothing to apologise for really. I was chatting away after the match and there was no problem whatsoever.”
Delaney, not surprisingly, hasn’t given a moment’s thought to retirement, nor he reckons has the likes of Noel Hickey.
For Walsh, meanwhile, the dream All-Ireland final debut might still be sinking in, but what is certain is that his playing career will never experience a day like it again.
“It was a very surreal experience to be honest,” says Walsh. “And I can’t really tell you what it was like, because I still haven’t come to terms with it.
“I just tried to treat it as another game, and the lads were all talking to me beforehand, David Herity, JJ, and those, had a few words with me, good words. Brian Cody, Martin Dempsey and Michael Fogarty also had a word with me, told me it was just another match, nothing more, to try to do what I always do. It just went a bit better than I thought it would.”
Funny how many a Kilkenny debutant end up saying the same thing.
Henry Shefflin: Record nine All-Ireland titles - on the field of play
Kilkenny: 5-15; Offaly: 1-14.
Kilkenny had lost the previous two All-Ireland finals, Shefflin himself on the losing end of the 1999 final, to Cork, but his first winning performance was one of the most comprehensive, Shefflin wonderful throughout, and part of a full-forward line of Charlie Carter and DJ Carey that hit 4-10 between them. Shefflin scored 1-3, and later that year was awarded his first All Star.
KILKENNY: J McGarry; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, W O’Connor (capt); P Larkin, E Kennedy, P Barry; A Comerford, B McEvoy; D Byrne, J Power, J Hoyne; C Carter, DJ Carey, H Shefflin. Subs: C Brennan for McEvoy, E Brennan for C Brennan.
Kilkenny: 2-20; Clare: 0-19
Shefflin scored 1-7 in this one, his goal in the 67th minute proving vital to sealing the victory for Kilkenny. He’d hit four points, two from play, by the 15th minute, playing at centre forward, putting Clare centre-back Seánie McMahon under massive pressure, and this completing a first league and championship double.
KILKENNY: J McGarry; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, P Larkin; R Mullally, P Barry, JJ Delaney; A Comerford (capt), D Lyng; J Hoyne, H Shefflin, J Coogan; E Brennan, M Comerford, DJ Carey. Subs: C. Carter for Coogan, B McEvoy for Hoyne, J Power for Brennan.
Kilkenny: 1-14; Cork 1-11
A third All-Ireland winners’ medal in four years, and a third All Star award quickly followed, as Shefflin finished this final with 0-6, two points from play, his superb influence once again felt throughout the field, as this time he started in the number 10 shirt.
KILKENNY: J McGarry; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Ryall; S Dowling, P Barry, JJ Delaney; D Lyng, P Mullally; H Shefflin, J Hoyne, T Walsh; DJ Carey (capt), M Comerford, E Brennan. Subs: C Phelan for Walsh, A Comerford for Ryall, R Mullally for P Mullally, J Coogan for Brennan.
Kilkenny: 1-16; Cork: 1-13
With a final tally of 0-8, this game is best remembered for his hard graft, as Shefflin continually pressured the Cork backs to the extent their much-vaunted half-back line failed to impact as usual, and ended up top scorer of the season with a tally of 2-47, from five games. He also picked up his sixth All Star, and was named hurler of the year.
KILKENNY: J McGarry; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Tyrrell (capt); T Walsh, J Tennyson, J Ryall; D Lyng, J Fitzpatrick; E Brennan, M Comerford, E Larkin; R Power, H Shefflin, A Fogarty. Subs: W O’Dwyer for Larkin, R Mullally for Lyng.
Kilkenny 2-19; Limerick 1-15
As captain there was extra pressure on Shefflin this time, and yet along with Eddie Brennan, a goal early on helped Kilkenny into a 2-2 to no score lead, and there was no way back for Limerick. However he was unable to resume the second half, after sustaining cruciate ligament injury late in the first half, still he ended with 1-2, earned himself his seventh All Star, and got to lift the Liam McCarthy cup.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; D Lyng, J Fitzpatrick; W O’Dwyer, M Comerford, E Larkin; E Brennan, H Shefflin (capt), A Fogarty. Subs: J Tennyson for Hickey, R Power for O’Dwyer, M Fennelly for Shefflin.
Kilkenny 3-30; Waterford 1-13
It was labelled the perfect team performance, with Shefflin once again making the perfect contribution, with a score of 0-8, and was later awarded with his eighth All Star. It was Kilkenny’s first three-in-a-row since 1913, their 23-point victory the biggest final margin in 45 years.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; J Fitzpatrick (capt) , D Lyng; H Shefflin, M Comerford, E Larkin; E Brennan, R Power, A Fogarty. Subs: TJ Reid for Comerford, J McGarry for Ryan.
Kilkenny 2-22; Tipperary 0-23
A fourth All-Ireland in succession, but not easily won, as Tipperary were two points up with eight minutes to go, when Kilkenny were awarded a penalty, perfectly struck by Shefflin, although other than that he was well contained by Tipp, and only managed one point from play, although was still their top scorer with 1-8, and ended the season with a ninth All Star.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J Tennyson; D Lyng, M Rice; E Brennan, E Larkin, R Power; R Hogan, H Shefflin, A Fogarty. Subs: TJ Reid for Fogarty, M Fennelly for Lyng, M Comerford for R Hogan.
Kilkenny 2-17; Tipperary 1-16
A sweet comeback after the 2010 final ended in heartbreaking defeat to Tipperary, when Shefflin suffered the recurrence of the cruciate injury, as this time he scored 0-7, and ended with his 10th All Star award. Kilkenny never looked back, once Shefflin fired over the opening point in the second minute.
KILKENNY: D Herity; J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney, N Hickey; T Walsh, B Hogan (capt), P Murphy; M Fennelly, M Rice; E Brennan, R Power, H Shefflin; C Fennelly, E Larkin, R Hogan. Subs: TJ Reid for Brennan, J Mulhall for Hogan.
Kilkenny 3-22; Galway 3-11
With a final score of 0-9, including five frees, and two 65s, Shefflin improved his overall record championship score to an amazing 27-480, from 62 games, and also made history in becoming the first player to win a ninth All-Ireland title in the field on play. Now, who is betting against number 10?
KILKENNY: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; C Buckley, M Fennelly; E Larkin, H Shefflin, TJ Reid; W Walsh, R Hogan, R Power. Subs: C Fennelly for W Walsh, N Hickey for Joyce, A Fogarty for Reid.