‘You don’t stop. This defeat should be a challenge to start another era. I’m confident it will be a challenge’
The Kilkenny project has been steered by careful, watchful men, and it goes on
Brian Cody heads for the tunnel after the recent championship defeat to Cork at Semple Stadium. Those charged with guarding the traditions of Kilkenny hurling and plotting its future see light, however, at the end of the tunnel. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Mid morning and mid week, Kilkenny under a caul of rain. The streets are a cold sizzle.
This week has been busy with obituaries, the obvious end of era emphasis. Pat Henderson is brusque about such talk. He poses a question: “What was any different last Monday morning than the Monday morning after the 2010 All Ireland final? That was meant to be the end of it all too.
“The whole thing goes on. If it doesn’t, you have the wrong people involved. You don’t stop. This defeat should be a challenge to start another era. I’m confident it will be a challenge.”
Pat glints with conviction. Some find him forbidding, a Clint Eastwood mien. Henderson far likes silence to foolishness.
Brendan O’Sullivan nods, easy in this company, comrades of forty years. Now retired as principal of Thomastown Boys NS, he is commonly regarded as one of hurling’s most authoritative observers. Among the many roles filled was acting a selector for the Kilkenny seniors in 1983, when Henderson led them to the top in a drenched and wild Croke Park.
Both are notably robust about prospects in the short and the medium term, feeling the core remains sound. “We are blessed with our secondary schools,” Brendan notes. “There’s no county in the country with more schools. When you’re in a primary school, it’s easy enough in its own way. But in secondary school the pressure is fierce, exams and everything else. More accurately, we are blessed with the people we have in those schools.”
Pat immediately has the number of teachers involved: 23. They likewise insist that the development squad system thrives. “That’s a continuing and changing process,” he says. “But by Kilkenny being able to measure itself, from the start, against other counties, I feel we’ll continue to succeed.”
For them, bonds forged within the various squads are equal with coaching gained. “The lad from a small club is now friendly with the lad from the big club,” Brendan says. “Which wasn’t always the case, going back. We have an edge there, in that lads will die for each other on the field.”
Pat Henderson forms, with Brendan O’Sullivan, the core of Kilkenny’s Politburo. They are joined today by Richie Mulrooney, current U21 manager and a youthful 48, someone who will be co-opted in due course, his managing days done, which will not be for a fair while. The Kilkenny project has been steered by careful. watchful men, teachers in the main and abstainers from alcohol in the main, prudent to a fault. It has never been fashionable but it works.
Richie says: “There is no end of era. The era started in 1904, when the first one was won, and it continues unabated. You wake up last Monday, desperate disappointed. But that’s part of it too. We probably think far more about hurling when we’re losing.”