Kilkenny recovery not a given by any means
Other teams don’t fear the champions now – Limerick have impressed me this year and can cause real trouble for Brian Cody’s men, writes NICKY ENGLISH
THE DOOR to this year’s All-Ireland title was thrown wide open with Kilkenny’s defeat to Galway in the Leinster final. Up to that point, everyone thought Kilkenny were invincible; and, perhaps, the players themselves were guilty of believing the hype, with the result Brian Cody’s men are now in the very unfamiliar position of having to find a backdoor route towards retaining the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Tomorrow’s All-Ireland quarter-final with Limerick is the first step in that quest. Kilkenny are on a major redemption mission and it can go one of two ways: A – Kilkenny can bounce back and will annihilate Limerick, proving to everyone they really are back and the Galway display was an aberration; or, B – what we saw against Galway, allowing for Galway’s brilliance, was a Kilkenny team in serious decline.
From a position where everyone thought they knew everything there was to know about Kilkenny, after their impressive League final performance versus Cork, and their display against Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, and it was simply a matter of course that they’d kick on and win the All-Ireland again, now we don’t even know how they’re going to play in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
A month ago, it seemed the destination of the title was over. It was done and dusted. Kilkenny’s defeat to Galway has changed that, not just because they lost but because there was failure all over the place against Galway.
Some of their best players were guilty: Paul Murphy, under no pressure, dropped the ball several times; Tommy Walsh mis-hit line balls; and Eoin Larkin and Richie Power were virtually anonymous in the forward line.
It was a total and utter collapse. I have the feeling that for once they believed the hype that they were invincible.
When they were put on the back foot by Galway, Kilkenny couldn’t reverse out of it.
That outcome has changed the attitude of all the other teams. Limerick won’t be as afraid of them now as they would have been three weeks or a month ago.
This match with Limerick is a big test for Kilkenny. They will be hoping it is the norm that teams learn a lot about themselves in defeat. To their credit, they fought to the very end against Galway and Michael Fennelly’s return will make a difference.
But Brian Hogan’s absence through injury is a blow to them. He is virtually irreplaceable. I know he was pulled all over the place in the Galway game but he has been their bulwark at centre back these past number of years and Kilkenny aren’t as solid when Hogan isn’t there.
The All-Ireland final in 2010 showed that. Not alone does he do the centre back job but he also drops in front of the full back.
I’ll be surprised if Kilkenny come out with all guns blazing tomorrow. I think the defeat to Galway will have a big impact and I don’t think that recovery will be as simple as many people suggest.
It’s hard to revert straight back into super team mode. Galway have put a hole below the water line and other teams will benefit from it.
Limerick have impressed me this year and they’re a team that can cause real trouble for Kilkenny. They’re a team on the up who pulverised Tipperary physically and outhurled them for much of their Munster championship game.