Kilkenny have been spoiled really over the past dozen years or so, given that they have qualified forAll-Ireland final after All-Ireland final. All Ireland time is so special, and it is a welcome visitor, but it comes with baggage, it’s own price tag, writes Barrie Henriques?
“It is a special time, and it brings a great buzz around the place, not only around Nowlan Park, but it infects the entire county and beyond,” explained County Board treasurer, Barry Hickey. “It’s the buzz that drives everyone forward, the management, the players, and the County Board. We are all afflicted with it.”
The whole panacea of getting to an All-Ireland final, and the work that goes into it, is astonishing. It still has to be driven, and it still has to be serviced. Does it get any easier?
“While it might seem from the outside that the engine is purring nicely, and the workings of the project are smooth, I know that it is not as simple as at first sight,” he explained.
“We have set standards in Kilkenny over the years, and I don’t think anyone here has dropped the ball, no pun intended. There are many working parts to the Kilkenny engine. There are the parents who take kids to their local club. There are the clubs who encourage and nurture. There are the schools who continue the hurling education.
“There are the Development Squads. There are many people involved who do a wonderful job. Everybody works hard at their tasks, and you are not considered if you renege on that ethic.”
Always watched the money
While money was plentiful during the Celtic Tiger years, now that the pendulum has swung to the bottom of the pit, it must be difficult to finance the running of the journey in the broader sense, given that costs are no longer commensurate with the depression that we find ourselves in?
“In honesty, we were never anything but frugal in our expenditure, even during the Celtic Tiger times,” the John Lockes (Callan) clubman assured. “We concentrated in running an efficient ship, keeping our costs down, and making just enough money to keep the machine oiled. Thankfully the people who were our supporters, and sponsors within and outside of the county (Dublin and Kildare) are still in the vanguard of our financial backers.
“So yes, it is tough going and demanding, but our supporters and sponsors are still very generous with their money. Some of them have found that they just cannot reach on the levels of their previous contributions. They are still coming in with lesser figures, but they are still coming with us.
“For instance, we also recognise the problems, and whilst in the good times we could get €1,700 for a Corporate table, we reduced that figure to €500 for our recent gathering in Langtons and people responded.”
Has All-Ireland final day changed for you over the years?
“Of course, there have been some alterations from a logistical viewpoint,” he explained. “For a start the contacts in Croke Park management have changed over the years. The regulations, and demands, have altered. The ticket allocation system is totally different. The emphasis on punctuality is more pronounced. Procedural codes are more insistent.”
Given the dreadful difficulties of stretching an already stretched income, would you think that charging €80 for a ticket is too expensive, and having given the money, do you think that plonking a poor individual down in the corner of the stadium is right, given that others with the same priced ticket are seated in far better accommodation?
“I agree that the price is high, and that it will probably exclude some of our supporters from the game,” the treasurer conceded. “Some have suggested that we should adopt a colour coding system in the pricing of seats, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that. But that is a personal opinion.
“But given the enormous financial assistance handed out by Croke Park every year, and we in Kilkenny have greatly benefited from such grants, all of that would not be remotely possible if the revenue was not forthcoming from gates.”
Take us through your All-Ireland day?
“I always smile every year when Kathleen and myself are driving to meet the busses (Kathleen on the lady’s bus, and myself on the team bus) and I reflect on how fortunate we are to be a part of something historical, so special and so amazing,” he said, pride all but bursting out of him.
“When I reflect on what has happened over the past 10 years I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure that it is not a mirage or a dream. We travel to the team hotel accompanied by relays of Garda outriders. It is very quiet, very concentrated, everybody to their own thoughts.
“I remember one year when approaching the Waterford/Cork intersection in particular, where traffic was snarled up. As the Garda outriders parted the halted traffic, I remember all the occupants of the cars got out an clapped the bus as it wove its way through. You never forget those occasions. In the dressing room, it is very well orchestrated.
“Brian (Cody) and the lads do it exceptionally well. It is my job to give out the jerseys, and I wish all the players the very best and then its on to the game. The atmosphere is quite astonishing. Walking out that tunnel into that Niagrara of sound is an amazing experience. You just couldn’t get enough of that!”
And when it is all over. What for instance happens after winning?
“The drill is that what happens stays, but I can tell you this, the raw joy is quite unbelievable,” he assured. “The post match wind down is something else. The cup is put in the middle of the warm-up room, we all gather round in a circle, Ned Quinn intones the Rose, and the party kicks off from there.”
Will Galway burst the party bubble this time?
“They are well capable of doing so, but I feel that if our lads show the same spirit and dedication to the job that they did against Tipp especially, we will have a great chance of winning,” he insisted. “You would be nervous, but I have great faith in these lads doing the right thing. It is still only a 50/50 game, but a single point will do for me.”