Kilkenny at their best were just much better than the rest
A good start and finish but an awful lot going on in between for Cody and co in a stop-start summer, writes SEAN MORAN
More than 22 years ago I headed off on a day trip to see the Ireland-England soccer match at Italia 90. At the airport one of my travelling companions – a pleasant, entertaining and intelligent chap – arrived at the airport with his family, who saw him off with great ceremony in his novelty green hat.
In the euphemistic vernacular he had a few along the way and was transformed, but not in a good way, for the duration of his trip to Sardinia.
This involved having a few more, trying to break through a cordon of armed police at the stadium – the carabinieri’s nerves already taut from the presence of English fans – having earlier shouted something deeply inappropriate into a reception being held for the late Brian Lenihan senior, a candidate in that year’s presidential election, and finally ending up in custody from which he was sprung just about in time to catch the red-eye home.
Back in Dublin early the next morning, weary from his escapades and further calmed by a couple of hours sleep he was restored to his reasonable, affable self. Having been greeted by the same family who had seen him off about 24 hours earlier, he was taken home to give a presumably-edited version of the trip.
Just because you get from A to B doesn’t mean you haven’t been to Z.
The hurling summer began with Kilkenny annihilating Cork in the league final in Thurles. Some months later it concluded with Kilkenny annihilating Galway in the All-Ireland final to complete the fifth double of Brian Cody’s management. But in between things had gone a bit haywire.
For all the emphatic performances of May and September this was the least convincing All-Ireland in Kilkenny’s portfolio. Caught memorably on the hop by Galway in an historic Leinster final, which saw the Bob O’Keeffe Cup cross the Shannon for the first time, Kilkenny’s display was symptomatic of a stop-start summer.
Alternating between the power and drive that devastated Dublin, Tipperary and Galway was the listlessness that led to a drubbing in the provincial final, a less than convincing defeat of Limerick and near-disaster in the drawn All-Ireland final.
At their best they were still better than the rest; not at their best they looked vulnerable.
The how and why of counties’ winning All-Irelands become less relevant with the passage of time and that will be especially true of this year. For the first time in 53 years the hurling final went to a replay but that won’t be the main reason 2012 stands out in the history books.
Henry Shefflin’s ninth All-Ireland medal overshadowed the same achievement by his team-mate Noel Hickey but Shefflin had started not alone every one of the nine finals but every single championship match of the Cody era going back to 1999.
More astonishingly, at the age of 33 when a man in pursuit of a record All-Ireland medal might expect not to have to do so much of the heavy lifting he all but single-handedly saved the drawn All-Ireland final even down to the much-questioned decision to point a penalty in the last couple of minutes, a preternaturally calm percentage play given the circumstances and one utterly vindicated by the outcome of the replay.
The impact of all of this was deservedly reflected in a third Hurler of the Year award (another record).