Kilkenny gets behind Cats to stretch out black and amber era

All-Ireland finals have become a habit no one in the county is ready to give up yet

Noel Skehan, former Kilkenny goalkeeper, with flags in Bennettsbridge: ‘I don’t know what Kilkenny would do if we weren’t in an All-Ireland final. What would you do with the first Sunday in September?’   Photograph:  Dylan Vaughan

Noel Skehan, former Kilkenny goalkeeper, with flags in Bennettsbridge: ‘I don’t know what Kilkenny would do if we weren’t in an All-Ireland final. What would you do with the first Sunday in September?’ Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

The black and amber bunting is out all over Kilkenny. One wonders if it has ever been taken down.

Fourteen times in the past 17 years Kilkenny have been in the All-Ireland hurling final. They have won seven of the past nine All-Irelands.

However much the Irish sporting public at large desire a change at the top in hurling, that desire does not extend to Kilkenny itself. Some 2,000 participants in 46 different parishes across the county took part in a fundraising radio quiz for their hurlers recently.

Each year the county board goes to the business community for funds, and each year it delivers. Another 600 turned out last weekend to a fundraising dinner in Kilkenny; a record, according to county board public relations officer Seamus Reade, even though that well has been drawn from so often in the past.

“They understand what the hurlers bring to Brand Kilkenny,” he says.

For a long time, Noel Skehan (69) held the record for senior All-Ireland medals (nine in total, six as a goalkeeper and three as substitute). That record was eclipsed last year when the incomparable Henry Shefflin won his 10th title.

Skehan won his first All-Ireland as a minor in 1962 and his last as senior goalkeeper 21 years later in 1983. He appreciates these good years because he remembers the “famine” years in Kilkenny, that 10-year stretch between 1947 and 1957 when they did not win a single All-Ireland.

Most counties in Ireland would settle for an All-Ireland title every 10 years. Most counties are not Kilkenny.

Skehan understands that a lot of people are “browned off” that Kilkenny are in another All-Ireland final, this time against Galway, “but Kilkenny people never get sick about it. It will never wane. I don’t know what Kilkenny would do if we weren’t in an All-Ireland final. What would you do with the first Sunday in September?”

The county can hardly be blamed for being as successful as it is, he points out. It is up to others to emulate their team’s achievements.

His wife, children and grandchildren will all be going to the final.

“It’s nearly an impossibility with tickets nowadays, but all my gang will be there,” he says.

Skehan turned up this week at Gowran Park for a golf fundraiser in which there were so many ex-hurlers that a stray golfball was bound to hit at least one multiple All-Ireland medal winner.

DJ Carey, an all-time great, says the good times are appreciated because of the bad times of the past. Kilkenny did not win an All-Ireland between 1983 and 1992. They won again in 1993, but had to wait another seven years for the next title.

“This golden era will end. We don’t want it to end, but it will,” he says.

He acknowledges that 31 counties will be cheering for Galway in the final, but it would be the same if Galway were playing either Tipperary or Cork.

“People are looking for a change,” he says. “My argument is: ‘Have it as a change. When it happens, it happens.’”

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