Kilkenny have some of the best defenders on the hurling scene. And they are playing in the Kilkenny attack!
The score getters from the Kilkenny forward line were hailed as heroes in Sunday’s comfortable Leinster final win over Dublin, receiving the thumbs up and praise from none other than former All-Star defender and eight times All-Ireland medal winner, J.J. Delaney.
“The forwards made our job easier in the backs the way they hassled and put pressure on the Dublin backs,” the stylish Fenians (Johnstown) player insisted.
“They kept Dublin under pressure all the time, forcing them to rush their clearance, to mis-hit them and to put them in bad areas. A back faces nothing worse than an opponent running on to a well placed ball where the forward has all the advantages.
“The way our forwards defend doesn’t make it easy for opposing back to place clearances.”
J.J., the hurler of the year in 2003, claimed his 10th Leinster senior victory in what he described as “a good win”.
“The big thing was not to give away any cheap frees,” he continued. “You hand the opposition a score if you do that. We put pressure on them and forced them to shoot rather than jump in, commit a foul and give them a handy score. It was very disciplined. The forwards set the tone.
“They were on top of the Dublin backs and they made our job that bit easier. The best contribution you can make to any team is to work hard. We have plenty of lads who work, work, work. Our forwards play the pressure game very well.”
J.J. was thrilled that Kilkenny sailed straight through to the All-Ireland semi-finals, thereby avoiding a heavy run of matches.
“We can sit back and plan ahead now,” he smiled. “It is nice to have the five week break. After last year you appreciation it. Last year we were playing weekend after weekend. It probably caught up with us in the end. We probably shouldn’t have got as far as we did last year, but we struggled through.
“We came up very short against Cork. We need to keep the heads down now. You see the panel this year. The team is changing every day. The battle is on for places. More than any year anyone can start. The lads know that. There are 36 lads fighting like dogs to get on the team.”
Fight for place
Surely, one suggested, J.J. Delaney doesn’t have any fear of losing his place?
“Yes I have,” he insisted. “You are always looking over your shoulder in this camp. If your form dips at all you are gone. It is too dangerous to lose out at this time of year.
“All the hard work is done now. This is the time of the season to be really enjoying your hurling. You enjoy the challenge of marking different people in training every night.
“There is personal pride involved as well. You don’t want anyone to get the better of you. It is up to you to get and have yourself right.
“There is no better way to sharpen up than to mark the likes of ‘Taggy’ (Aidan Fogarty) or someone like that in training.
“He is flying at the moment. Coping with the likes of that every night gets you ready for matches.”
So, was regaining the Leinster title a big deal?
“It was big,” J.J. said with firmness in his voice. “It was very important. Now we are in the All-Ireland semi-final. We won our last two games over the last two weekends, which was a big thing. You can’t beat the habit of winning.”
He didn’t think a bigger effort was put in to winning Leinster than in other years. The desire was always there, he said. Kilkenny always liked to win it because they went straight through to the All-Ireland semi-final.
“We can now sit back and work at our own pace over the next five weeks while other teams knock each other out,” he said. “It is not that we will be relaxed, but we can work the way management decide.
“Whoever comes to us now in the semi-final, comes. You can’t be worrying about who you might be meeting. You concentrate on getting yourself right and then you hope you can deal with whatever challenge comes along.
“Winning is a habit. We wanted to get to the semis through the front door. It is the best way. A heavy schedule of games can take a bit out of you. They say the real hurling starts in August. We will see.”