It is hard to credit that Kilkenny are back in the All-Ireland hurling final again, for a seventh successive occasion. That alone is an incredible achievement, and the fact that the run has been decorated with lots of victory and even more terrific matches makes it even better.
It is mind blowing, for the likes of me who has played the game, that the players have remained as hungry, enthusiastic and driven for so long. That is not easy. The amount of training that is done, the amount of preparations that are done outside of collective sessions now, the whole thing of the commitment of time makes all these players heroes to me.
I know all counties are worked off heavier and more time consuming programmes, so people should be ever mindful that they are looking at elite athletes, no ordinary run of the mill players who happen to be amateurs. GAA players are most definitely among the most committed amateurs in the world of sport, there is no doubt about that.
I have massive admiration for the players. When I played I was probably one of the fittest players in the game. Relative to the standards of fitness now, if I were measured at my peak against these lads I would be bottom of the peak. That is how far things have progressed.
People should never forget things like that when they go to games. These lads don’t just turn up. Henry Shefflin, for example, may not have been the greatest under-age of all time. But the huge amount of work he put into perfecting his game has helped him into the realm of the greats now.
We all know the massive amount of work he has put in to getting back to the highest level after three bad injuries, two severed cruciate ligaments and a shoulder. I give him as an example, but all the rest follow personal programmes on top of the commitment to the collective sessions, so the time and effort they put into hurling is unreal.
New face never bad thing
It is good to have Galway in the final. A new face or faces is never a bad thing. They have enjoyed so much under-age success it was only a matter of time before the talent was shaped to make a good senior team.
If Galway don’t win this final, and they are capable of winning it, they surely must enjoy success some time down the road.
They have enjoyed a great championship, and if anyone thinks they will be beaten easily in the final they are mistaken. People shouldn’t forget that Kilkenny are trying to turn around a 10-point defeat in the Leinster final. That won’t be easily done.
Galway were brilliant in the Leinster final. They got their tactics absolutely right, and the players executed the plan to perfection.
However, I don’t think Kilkenny will be as bad again, and I don’t think they will be held as well again. I am not sure Galway will be as good a game. There is a meeting in the middle there somewhere. I would always be optimistic about Kilkenny’s chances.
Having said that, I didn’t see the Leinster final defeat coming, nor the double scores semi-final win over Tipperary. It is not easy to call games any more there are so many variables and possibilities.
People think Brian Cody will have the players revved up, and I am sure he will. But in any game, even All-Ireland finals, you need luck, a break to go with you here and there. This Galway team is very good, and people shouldn’t think they cannot do the double over Kilkenny in the one season. They could!
Left best game on bus
There is a huge amount of talent in the county. Joe Canning is their stand out player, a phenomenal player. He is a match winner to match our best match winner and there is plenty of talent besides.
One big advantage I think Kilkenny have is that they are used to the All-Ireland final day experience. It is a day that can drag. There is pressure, huge, huge pressure involved.
The pressure, the anticipation before the match could burn you up if you can’t handle it.
Many a good player has left his best game in the bus on the way to Croke Park, be that through worry, stress or whatever.
In what state the players arrive in Croke Park could have a big bearing on the outcome? I think Kilkenny will have the advantage in that area.
I think Kilkenny will win. People have questioned whether or not we are nearing the end of this Kilkenny team because it is on the road so long. But is it?
The likes of David Herity, Paul Murphy and Colin Herity only joined the team last year. Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley and Richie Doyle have forced their way into the frame this season.
There is a constant turn over in personnel. The power of the performance in the semi-final win over Tipperary didn’t suggest to me that Kilkenny were in any shape or fashion on the wane. Another Kilkenny win is on the cards.