Cody and Sheedy looking ahead
FOR SOMEONE who is often accused of discerning competitiveness where none has existed during a match, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody couldn’t be faulted in his enthusiasm after yesterday’s helter-skelter NHL final ended with extra-time having just about produced a winner.
“It was a great game. It must have been. It was a serious game of hurling, it was full of everything, there was yellow cards, fellas coming off and going on. It was really intense stuff, like championship stuff. Tipperary were excellent and threatened to do away with us several times, I suppose, but we stuck at it and it was rewarded at the end, but it was serious, serious hurling.”
It also posed serious challenges for the All-Ireland champions, not least the need to survive without a gallery of first-choice players.
All Stars full back Noel Hickey and centrefielders James Fitzpatrick and Derek Lyng were missing. Centre back Brian Hogan left with a suspected broken collar bone just minutes into the match and shortly into the second half captain Henry Shefflin received a yellow card.
“Yeah, it was a serious test for the players out there. We were obviously short players that are considered to be regulars, including Brian Hogan through injury and that is a concern for us. Martin Comerford did not put a foot wrong in the game, I suppose, but he didn’t get a chance.
“It was that kind of game. It had all kinds of drama in it. I constantly talk about the panel and the panel stood up today and were counted several times. We won the thing and that was what it was all about at the end of the day.”
The latest success for the team that dominated hurling this decade had the added distinction of being well contested and genuinely demanding for the county that this summer seeks a record-equalling fourth successive All-Ireland.
“You know my feelings on the ones with big margins,” said Cody, “they’re not realistic. This was a final so it was up for grabs and everyone wanted to win it.
“There was no sort of ambiguity about preparation or mindset in the whole thing so these are the games that everyone wants to play in and the satisfaction is very, very definite. People will say that it’s only the league but the league is a great competition.
“The league is very important and has been very, very good to us and we’ve been good to the league as well. It’s the only competition you can win at this stage of the year and it’s a big one.
“Obviously, now we’ll look at the championship and prepare for the Leinster Championship, but we wanted to win today and thanks be to God we did.”
For his Tipperary counterpart, the giddy euphoria that greeted the end of a vibrant encounter couldn’t hide the reality that a match, which could have ended in a famous victory, had slipped away.
“These guys have a lot of hurling done over the last two years. All you can do is ask them to try and be the best they can be every day. There’ll be good days and bad, highs and lows.
“It was surreal out there – people almost saying ‘well done’ but at the end of the day we’re after losing a league final.
“We’re very disappointed at that and maybe we were unlucky, although there were chances at both ends. After getting the goal to put us 16-8 up, about 30 seconds later it’s back to 16-11 and that was probably a critical period. In fairness to both teams they’re amateurs and there were lads dropping at 90, 95 minutes.
“These guys have to get up and go to work on Tuesday morning and it would be tomorrow only for the bank holiday.
“Championships a different ball game, lads. We went up in 2003 and lost a rip-roaring match to Kilkenny by a point and four weeks later we were dumped out of the Munster championship by Clare. So let’s not anyone get carried away.”
A championship match with oldest rivals Cork awaits at the end of the month, but unlike the exhibition-style league final of six years ago, yesterday’s contained enough jagged edges to be useful preparation for the summer.
“There was good intensity, in fairness, but we got a very good start. I want to pay tribute to the players. Don’t ever question their character. I thought the amount of work they got through when the match was a match – they never let Kilkenny settle on the ball. As a group I would have to say that every one of them left everything out on the field.
“That’s all you can ask for. We’ll get ourselves back in training on Tuesday night and it’s all systems go for championship.”