I MAKE no apologies for being a worshipper at the altar of greatness in sport. I love watching genius in the exhibition or invention. I have wondered at the abilities of man and beast, and in my lifetime, I have seen much to nurture my enthusiasm.
I admired the courage and greatness of the great Arkle. I wondered in awe at the heart of the little mare, Dawn Run. I was privileged to see Lasse Virin do the double double of Olympic gold at 5000 and 10,000 metres. I remember seeing the marvellous Dawn Fraser knife her way through the Olympic pool, and into the hearts of her adoring Aussie fans.
More pertinently, I have seen first hand the genius of Sean Purcell, Mick O’Connell, Kevin Heffernan, Christy Ring, Eddie Keher, Jimmy Doyle, Josie Gallagher, Jack O’Shea, Nick Rackard, D.J. Carey, Henry Shefflin and more.
Last week the talk was about who might play at midfield for the Kilkenny hurlers against Dublin, given the unavailability of Mick Fennelly and Michael Rice. Last week the talk was about Dublin taking out Kilkenny with their physicality.
Last week the talk was about a possible – I didn’t say probable - Dublin win.
Opinion suggested that BC wouldn’t start with two greenhorns at midfield. Paddy Hogan had limited experience there, and any time he was sited there he had a Fennelly, Rice or some such experienced operator with him. Young Cillian Buckley didn’t start against Wexford in the under-21 match on Wednesday night, so it was assumed that he would not be playing against the Dubs.
In O’Moore Park, Buckley wore 25. Hogan wore 9. They stood at each others shoulder in midfield. They looked fit. They looked determined. They looked courageous. And they never took a backward step.
The much-vaunted Conal Keaney, with messiahical expectation for Dublin hurling resting on his shoulders, went straight over towards another greenhorn, Richie Doyle. Some worried. Many of us watched and waited.
If the expectancy in Dublin was that the more experienced Keaney would out-slug the young Paulstown lad, his ammo bandolier was swiftly emptied shooting at shadows. Doyle was immense. From first ball to last, the Ballyboden man never struck one ball in anger.
I happened to be in excellent and knowledgeable company in the press box, Tony Considine, the former Clare chief, and the marvellous Diarmuid O’Flynn. Considine went gaga on Doyle.
“This kid is a clone of J.J. Delaney, and I consider J.J. to be the most perfect hurler I have ever seen,” he gushed. “He (J.J.) can hurl with awesome confidence and in any number of places. In fact, I think he would be a great goalkeeper if he was required.
“But as long as I have watched J.J,, this kid Doyle lacks nothing in comparable abilities. He’s a clone of J.J.” he felt, as if to re-emphasise his admiration and assessment.
Praiseworthy observations indeed.
From Herity to Hogan the Kilkenny machine never purred with such sweet efficiency. It would test your reflective abilities to bring to mind a more perfect exhibition of the hurling skills.
Were Dublin as poor as they looked? Was the Kilkenny performance as perfect as appeared?
Dublin were awful, like a rudderless ship floundering in a gale-force wind with a drunken skipper at the helm. I felt so sorry for Dublin team officials, Anthony Daly, Ciaran Hetherton, Richie (the famine is over) Stakelum, Vincent Teehan (a Kilkenny man) and Johnny McEvoy. Those great hurling men didn’t deserve what was served up as a by-product of the hard work injected by Daly and his crew.
On the face of what I saw in O’Moore Park, Dublin are light years behind Kilkenny presently. They were at the table for the opening 12 minutes, but even still their deficiencies were roaring out loud and clear.
For instance, their captain, a good hurler, John McCaffrey, shot two easy point chances wide on the same side within four minutes of each other.
The difference was underlined in a bout of inter-passing by Kilkenny players in the 47th minute. Within millimetres of the sideline under the stand, Eoin Larkin (what beautiful hands God gave him), Paddy Hogan, and Richie Doyle got themselves out of a very tight spot with three hand passes, expedited within two seconds.
A Dublin player invariably took the same amount of time to off-load a single pass, and that scenario was replicated many times over during the game. Dublin were a beaten docket after T.J. Reid’s 16th minute goal. Kilkenny sluiced home with as near perfect a performance as one could wish to see.
The wonder horse, Frankel hosed in at Ascot with a perfection performance.
Frankel and Kilkenny - I was privileged to watch both on a wet Saturday afternoon.