Kilkenny's historic greatness there for all to see
ON GAELIC GAMES:For the past 12 years an extraordinary hurling era has unfolded and this time there will be an unparalleled record of Kilkenny’s amazing achievements, writes SEAN MORAN
WERE ANYONE to ask for an example of the essence of Kilkenny hurling and its unflinching, Spartan perspectives they could do worse than listen to the schoolchildren on last Friday’s Morning Ireland.
In an audio package that would normally be keynoted by cheery and boisterous kiddie outpourings, the “oh yes, we will” and “oh no, they won’t” parts gave way to something sombrely more measured.
One discussed in preoccupied tones the need for Kilkenny to address their poor starts to the matches whereas another, questioned jovially as to whether there was any chance of Galway winning, paused before replying pensively: “Yeah, there’s a bit of a chance.”
They mightn’t be sent out, like the young of Sparta, at an early age to fend for themselves and train with the military (as far as we know) but when it comes to hurling they certainly think for themselves. As it turned out their apprehensions were unnecessary, partly because Galway had been hit by injury to two very influential players but even allowing for the impact Joe Canning’s hamstring and James Skehill’s shoulder had on the team, the important transformation came from Kilkenny.
Given the success of Brian Cody’s changes for the replay, there was puzzlement as to why both Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh hadn’t been used in the drawn match but perhaps the fact that the second half of that match was generally heading Kilkenny’s way until the very end explains why there had been such a cautious substitution policy.
Another factor is the history of the county’s finals during the current run that has seen six championships won in seven (eight, if last month’s draw is counted) outings. Cody and his management have generally been spot on in their changes for the big day. Last year after apparently atrophying all season, Eddie Brennan was sprung for the final and his energy and pace helped to open up Tipperary and fashion a triumphant swan song for the player who promptly retired. The greatest contention surrounded the dropping of two players in 2009. James Fitzpatrick and Martin Comerford were replaced but the latter was sprung from the bench to great effect, setting up the play that culminated in the penalty that turned the match and scoring a goal himself.
The switches and their success demonstrate the depth of quality in the county panel during the current era. Being able to draw unarguable form out of players at training requires a consistently pressurised environment, which will guarantee a hurler’s readiness to slot in on even the biggest days.
Nor is it a case of making changes for the sake of shaking things up although that can have a function for a team. The most stunning performance of Cody’s entire tenure is widely regarded as the 2008 final when they ripped apart Waterford in an almost flawless, record breaking (30 points scored) performance. This was the only time in the present run of seven successive finals that Kilkenny fielded an unchanged team.
Tellingly the selection that most emphatically turned out for the worse – the inclusion of Henry Shefflin two years ago on the back of a fervently-desired apparent miracle – happened in advance of the one final the team lost and having gazed in wonder at the player’s galvanic displays this year, particularly in the finals, you’d have to speculate as to how that one would have turned out had he played until the end.