Surprise was my main reaction in Thurles on Sunday. It wasn’t that Clare beat Kilkenny or anything, but the manner in which they beat them surprised.
Really they did a Kilkenny on Kilkenny. They our-worked them. They were hungrier. They brought more intensity to the game.
They had a game plan, a good short game that worked to perfection for them. They mixed the short game with the quick, long ball to the edge of the square, and they had Kilkenny in trouble from an early stage.
What surprised me as well was that Kilkenny performed slightly below par. They did fight to the end, but their best came too late.
Once the first whistle sounded Clare grabbed the initiative and were the superior team.
Look, that is the way League games can go. Thank God it happened in April and not June or July.
Kilkenny didn’t close down Clare’s running game at any stage. When you look at it, this is the League and Kilkenny wouldn’t have analysed Clare’s game to any huge degree.
Sure, they knew generally what they were going to do - use the sweeper and have plenty of runners. But they might not have expected the intensity, which was huge.
Clare kept changing their game plan during the League, and Kilkenny wouldn’t have taken them apart tactically. It will be different if the teams meet again in the championship.
A bit naive
As well, Kilkenny were a bit naive, which is not like them. They were naive at the back in the way they left Joey Holden and John Conlon with acres of space.
A small bit more communication between the full-back and goalie Eoin Murphy was needed too.
Look, it is very hard when you come out and the opposition gets on top. It is hard to pull things back, to reverse the trend of play.
It has often been said in the dressing-room, and I heard it myself, that if you are even a fraction off at that level you will suffer. That is when teams can punish you.
As a team and individually you might not realise you are a fraction off until it actually happens. Then it is too late.
Maybe we missed the signs ourselves. We spoke last week that Kilkenny got out of jail a few times in matches, and they got away with teams not punishing them when they had the chance.
When Clare got the chance on Sunday they punished.
I have no doubt Kilkenny will learn from this experience.
If you are not tuned in absolutely from the off it is hard to turn things around.
Little went Kilkenny’s way, mainly because Clare put them under pressure. It is extremely hard to turn things around in a situation like that.
Need ball winners
You need players, the ball winners, to stand up and make things happen. But Clare got so much on top that even the break balls, which are bread and butter to Kilkenny ordinarily, were being lost.
The defeat is not the end of the world. The positive thing is that it happened in April, and Kilkenny will learn from it.
The plan for Clare has to be to rob them of the space they want to bring their game into play. Teams will look at that for the championship.
We have a League final now between two teams using the sweeper system. It will be most interesting to see how that goes, bearing in mind Waterford have been criticised for a lack of goals.
There was no lack of goals in the semi-finals on Sunday.
Clare’s plan worked, with Brendan Bugler on T.J. Reid and they marked Richie Hogan very, very closely.
Kilkenny lost their shape at the back. Players missing can lead to that sort of thing. I know Clare missed players also, but Kilkenny were missing big guns - Michael and Conor Fennelly, Conor Fogarty, Eoin Larkin and Ger Aylward. That is some list of talent.
To be fair to Kilkenny, they battled away and never gave up. They were hanging on at stages, though.
Clare punished Kilkenny like no other team during the League.
The Thurles experienced showed that you cannot lose too many of your top players. Maybe you can do without one or two and remain competitive, but you can’t lose five.
When it comes down to the bigger games in the championship you have to have as much of your panel as possible. Yes, you will always miss one or two, but you need your big players, your ball winners the guys who can put in big hits or something that inspires others.
With that, your mentality has to be 100%. Maybe some felt it would happen automatically in Thurles.
You can train all you like, work as hard as you like, but unless you put in the effort on the day it is all for nothing.
T.J. Reid and Richie Hogan and the likes can’t rescue you every day. It is a 15, 17 or 20 man game now.
Brian Cody will drill that into the players from now on. Cody will have a reality check for the players, and there will be skin and hair flying at training.
This defeat puts things in perspective. No team is invincible.
However, there is no need for panic or anything like that.
A defeat like this can be the kick in the a... some might need. Kilkenny learned that if they are just that bit off their best that they can be wiped, not just beaten.
At the minute everything is in Kilkenny’s hands. They are the Leinster and All-Ireland champions.
If they lower their standards, this is the sort of day they can expect.
They will be very disappointed with how things went, but it will be a huge motivating factor come the championship.