Kilkenny manager, Pat O’Grady took it personal - the defeat by Tipperary in the All-Ireland intermediate hurling final last season.
“Any time you come to Thurles and you win through to an All-Ireland hurling final you have got to be happy,” the Blacks and Whites clubman admitted after Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Galway.
Ah, but now life was all about the final, which will be against defending champions, Tipperary in Nowlan Park.
“The big prize was to get another shot at Tipperary after they beat us last year. It has taken 12 months to earn this shot at them. There is no other game in this competition to play, so for 12 months I had to wake up every morning knowing that we didn’t win the title because Tipp beat us.”
Took it personal
Did you take it personal, one asked?
“Of course! You always take it personal,” he insisted. “I was given an opportunity to manage a Kilkenny team. That is something a lot of people would like to do. I got the chance, but we didn’t win the final. I was hurt by the failure.
“My father Sean grew up in the forties and fifties when Tipp were the force in hurling. It was drilled into us that if you got the opportunity to put one over Tipperary you took it.
“At least I can sleep well tonight knowing I have another go at beating them,” he added.
The manager felt the team played well, even if it was their first outing. That was a concern, that the team might not jell and might under perform.
“Thankfully we performer,” the former under-age county player continued. “We had nothing on which to gauge form. We spoke to the players about the match, but we couldn’t tell them anything about Galway. We didn’t know what kind of team they were.
“It was a shot in the dark. I knew that if it came down to an out and out fight that we would be the better team. You could see that fierce hunger in the players during training. If Galway senior hurling, which is the grade a lot of their players are involved in, was 15 or 16 points better than us, then there was nothing we could do.
Gained in confidence
“But if it came down to a close fight I felt sure we would win.
“You could see our playeres gaining in confidence during the game. They communicated well with each other, and some of their combination play surprised I have to admit. They harassed and chased and fought for every ball.
“We won more than an equal share of puck-out ball, which was particularly pleasing. After the opening exchanges we took control and we had a grip on things at half-time. It was our game to lose after that. Thankfully the players maintained their concentration and pushed all the way to the finish.”
Kilkenny won the toss and opted to play against the breeze in the first half, a decision based on tradition in Kilkenny.
“Look, it worked to our advantage,” Pat insisted. “I think the breeze gained in strength when we were favoured by it. Wind and elements don’t win game. You still have to perform. We did!
“You always have to expect big peformances from Kilkenny teams. While I said I didn’t know what to expect, I knew I would get the effort and commitment from the players. Everything flows from there, as we have seen for a decade and more from our great senior team.
“The intention of the selectors was always that we would pick honest to goodness players who would wear the jersey with pride. We weren’t looking for genius performers. If players gave the 100% that was in them, we had no right to expect more. We have been getting that in training, and now we got it in an important match.
“There was a little disappointment that we didn’t score a goal. You can’t have everything. Goals win games, so we will have to work on that aspect of our play for the final. I would be chasing a 20% improvement in our performance in the final.
“If we can play as good as this in our first match, surely we can improve?
“That must always be your goal, to continue to improve. If we don’t step up our performance we won’t beat Tipp. There is a round of serious club games next weekend. But I think the players are happy enough to go back and play with their clubs rather than having a two week lead in the the final.
“They can go and enjoy themselves with their clubs, and then come back to us ready to go again. They will all be playing hurling. That is all they want and we want at the end of the day.
“If they are playing hurling at a competitive level, which they will be with their clubs, then they should come back to us in fine form, barring injuries, which is always risk.
“They are going to play themselves into the final. This is the fourth in-a-row in which we will be chasing a win. The finals are the only matches we have lost over the past four years. It is time to change things, and we intend to do that.”
Mr O’Grady, who is in his second term as manager, said playing the final in Nowlan Park should be a help, but home advantage alone won’t beat Tipperary.