Kilkenny are performing in a different parish


The most striking thing about the way Brian Cody handles team selection is how straightforward it is, writes NICKY ENGLISH

AT THE start of the season I made the point that the shadow of Kilkenny as an all-conquering presence was everywhere after the league final but that there had been high hopes of Dublin really putting it up to the champions and a feeling maybe that the league final had been primarily down to Cork being so poor.

Kilkenny’s demolition of Dublin in the Leinster semi-final proved that those hopes were just wishful thinking.

The over-riding feeling about the championship now is that although the Cork-Tipp match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was exciting, Kilkenny are performing at a different level and if they replicate that level of performance others are going to struggle.

It’s not Kilkenny’s fault but they’re getting better and better, finding new quality players every year and of the other counties, only Tipperary are anywhere within reach.

The most striking thing about the way Brian Cody handles team selection is how straightforward it is.

If a player is honest and hard working in training and they get a chance and play well they get the jersey. Some managers complicate that process but not Kilkenny. The other thing you notice is the number of new players, who are ready when they get their first run on the team.

That covers younger players like Paul Murphy, Colin Fennelly and this year Richie Doyle, who take their chance immediately, or others like Michael Rice, Richie Hogan, to an extent Michael Fennelly and even Brian Hogan who had to wait but have become outstanding players once they settled onto the team.

Brian Hogan is an interesting example. It took him a while to establish himself but in 2010 when he was injured for the All-Ireland, it was suddenly appreciated he was a huge loss for Kilkenny. He’s so big and commanding – in the mould of Ger Henderson and Peter Barry before him.

Players never seem to come into the team like shooting stars and then disappear. It’s been an amazingly successful regeneration of playing stock. Of the team that started against Dublin only Henry Shefflin played on Cody’s first All-Ireland winning side 12 years ago and he is just feeling his way back after injury and so was quiet enough.

The hunger in Kilkenny is still unreal. When you see Jackie Tyrrell looking as lean and mean as he was the last day and then celebrating like he’d won an All-Ireland in the 65th minute of a match that had been long since won because they’d just hunted down Dotsy O’Callaghan on the ball you get a sense of what everyone else is up against.

They’re also on a roll against Galway, most recently the huge league win in Nowlan Park, and have a big advantage in the strength of their panel.

Galway have always had plenty of hurlers but it hasn’t always translated into putting together senior teams.

Anthony Cunningham has good experience at under-21 level and has been bringing through those players but it’s hard to bring through young players en bloc – unlike in Kilkenny where they come in, in ones and twos and only have to concentrate on their own game.

I remember playing in 1982 when Tipperary brought through loads of under-21s and it’s no quick fix. A manager needs patience because it’s not just new players that need to be assessed but when a lot of them go in together, how they relate to each other and the team.

It’s a long-term project but the problem for Cunningham is he’s now in charge of the latest in a long line of long-term projects in Galway. Still in Niall Burke, Conor Cooney and Johnny Coen there is undoubtedly new talent.

It will actually be the likes of Fergal Moore, Tony Óg Regan, Joe Canning, Damien Hayes and Iarla Tannian, the more experienced players, who need to raise their game because in their respective days they were high-potential players but their senior careers have been unfulfilled.

This year Galway had some good displays in the league but equally, some horror shows. They’ve won well in Leinster so far but against limited opponents and conceded far too many goals – seven in two games against Westmeath and Offaly.

If they’re to win, it will be out of the blue and although they’ve shown themselves capable of that sort of performance in the past, they certainly can’t be expected on current form to run Kilkenny close and set themselves up for the rest of the championship. It will have to be something out of the ordinary.

This evening in Ennis two teams go in search of redemption and whether Dublin or Clare survive, the winners will have some momentum back. Dublin put so much into the Kilkenny match they set aside league ambitions to the extent of getting relegated and focused everything on June 23rd.

They fell so flat the whole Dublin project might need to be re-rated. Allowing for the pressure they had put on themselves and the expectation of a lot of people, it was a terrible display by Dublin. Their touch was poor and they didn’t even muster the physicality that everyone expected of them after winning the league last year and sunning Tipperary so close in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Maybe they aren’t capable of stepping up to the highest level in championship.

Ennis is a tough ground, as I experienced in my playing career. The pitch dimensions are fine but the crowd is up on top of the players and that creates a feeling of tightness.

Clare are also coming off a poor display. I thought they were disappointing in the league against Kilkenny and recently in the Munster semi-final with Waterford. They didn’t do the basics very well and their execution of the chosen short game wasn’t very good.

I think, though, Davy Fitzgerald can improve the team a bit and if he can start Darach Honan, that’s a major positive because despite the fact that some people doubt his ability to deliver, if he’s not injured he’s a significant talent.

There’s also need for change in the half backs and if the selection can bring about the required overall improvement I’ve a feeling that Clare could do it – but that shouldn’t be confused with conviction.

Finally, in the other qualifier, Cork will be wary of Offaly after last year and Jimmy Barry-Murphy will remember how they brought down the curtain on his first term as manager.

Offaly showed they’re capable of firing in goals against a full-back line that isn’t settled but with home advantage, Cork are in the driving seat.

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