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.