THERE is a touch of the brilliance of FC Barcelona about the way Kilkenny play and other counties would do well to follow them, Galway selector/coach, Mattie Kenny has suggested, writes John Knox.
The Cats consistency of performance is like the Catalan side, and it makes them a very difficult team to beat anywhere and any time.
When asked for his views on how Galway blitzed the All-Ireland champions in the Leinster final and how he felt Kilkenny would react to the reverse, Mr Kenny said there was never a doubt but the reaction would be positive.
“For Kilkenny it was only a matter of rediscovering their hungry,” the softly spoken Clarinbridge man said. “They showed that in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. Their hunger was phenomenal. The way they hurled was impressive.
“They were far hungrier and far more intense in the tackle than Tipp. There is great credit due to them that they can keep producing that level of performance day in and day out. That didn’t surprise me. Over the last 10 years I have admired the Kilkenny set-up greatly.
“I watched them every year. I love hurling. You like to see the best teams. Kilkenny are the best. You have to admire them.”
He insisted that what the National League champs showed against Tipperary was nothing new. They have been playing with that intensity for years.
“We have grown to expect that rather than be surprised by it,” the new Galway coach continued. “It is amazing. It is like Barcelona playing football. You can watch some of the Premiership teams and they play really well some days, and then they can be border line.
“Barcelona always look exceptionally well. Kilkenny are like that. They are consistently good, which presents us with a big challenge obviously.”
He insisted he wasn’t blowing up Kilkenny. There was no need to do that. He said he admired what they brought to hurling, but Galway were inspired by the head-to-head in Croke Park on Sunday.
“We have come a long way, but with young players when you get a bit of momentum going and when they get a few wins, the room for improvement is nearly greater,” Mr Kenny observed. “The players nearly soak in the information. They are so willing to learn, so willing to take things on board.
“Our level of performance is improving day on day. Winning the Leinster final was a big bonus. That put us into an All-Ireland semi-final. Drawing Cork, who is at a similar developing stage to us, was good because whoever won was going to get into the All-Ireland final.”
Confidence, he insisted, was vitally important for up and coming sides and results helped generate that.
“For a young side it is all about performance,” he continued. “For an experience team like Kilkenny, if they have a bad patch, they know how to ride it out. If you take the Leinster final, for example, they were able to recover from it very quickly.
Intensity, hunger, passion
“If we do get to that level of intensity, hunger and passion we had in the Leinster final then we know we are in with a chance.”
His philosophy in sport is much the same as Brian Cody, and is governed on honesty from the players.
“I look for honesty of effort first,” he said of his approach to coaching. “The coaching system is turning out top class touch hurler with very good skills, very good striking abilities.
“I look for a lad who can play with his head up. That for me is the single most important thing. When he is on the ball he can see where the space is, where the runs are. A lot of players don’t have that ability.
“Someone who is able to read the game, see the space and like in chess, sees maybe two moves ahead, is the ultimate. That is what makes the great player. That is an innate skill.”
Slowly building confidence has helped Galway get to where they are now. Things began to take shape when they beat Dublin in a replayed League relegation match. That was more or less the start of their knock-out hurling for the season
“Winning that helped the confidence of the young guys,” he felt. “Beating Westmeath and Offaly helped us build on that. The confidence started to grow and now we have a chance of winning the All-Ireland. We face a huge, huge challenge but we have prepared well for it.”