Kilkenny trainer/selector, Mick Dempsey is ready for his ninth All-Ireland final (or 11th, if you include replays!)
You can see it in his face. It displays no sense of anxiety, or unease. His face is a mask of total concentration, and as long as I have known him, that element of his metabolism has never changed.
Even as he races onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, Dempsey displays fear. Not for the Ballyadams man are the histrionics of arm waving, jumping into the air with flailing arms, or gesticulating with the alacrity of a bookie endeavouring to lay off money.
Who knows what is going on in his head? That is a private cavern. Whether or which, Mick Dempsey is looking forward to this final as if it was his first. He is ready. Likewise his charges.
“My role in the greater scheme of things is not speculating about what might happen later in the campaign,” he opened.
“Of course, I indulge in speculation, but I am more involved in the process, and the development of players from a fitness point of view.
“You take it match by match. The fundamentals must be right, so in Kilkenny, when all of those elements are in place, you always have a good chance. It’s as simple or as difficult as that.”
Then he beamed: “It is great to be back in the final. A lot of people would have written us off, given the tremendous players that retired last year. But the environment created by the players who are still on board, and the others who kicked on to the panel has been nothing but brilliantly, fantastic.”
When I mention that they (management) have had great players in the past, and now there is yet another new intake, he told me that he tended not to dwell too long on the past. He is not dismissive, rather he is at pains to point out that the process must be ever be moving forward.
“You see, in Kilkenny the ongoing process is seamless,” he smiled. “My job is the same every year; to develop the players and to help create the environment that allows players to develop and flourish. That environment has been created by Brian Cody, the greatest manager in the history of the game.
“He has created that environment in his own likeness, his own values, embracing his passion for the game. It involves the respect he shows his players; the communication he has with all of the players. Part of all of the process is the involvement of the County Board, the propagation of the game at club and schools levels, and all of that allows players to develop, and be as good as they can be.”
He praised Kilkenny supporters.
“They know their hurling, and their players,” he insisted. “Their support is invaluable, and that is hugely important. You have to be mindful of the influence of the parents of the players and their input.
“Then you have the teachers and club coaches. They are so important in the mix. The greater hurling family in Kilkenny is like a walled-in fortress, where there is a contribution made by all.”
There is a confidence thread crocheted through much of what Kilkenny mentors say about their team, their ambitions and their progress. As a diversion - and probably this is not the opportune time to ask the question - but what if the worst happens and Galway win on Sunday?
What then? The retort was interesting, but pragmatic.
“Some day that will come in Kilkenny,” he answered,”but hopefully not on Sunday (smiling). Those are the vagaries of sport. It is a rocky road, and you will not always be a winner, but here in Kilkenny people are very philosophical about these things.
“They will say, sure there is always next year, and you know they are right. There will always be a next year”.
Back to the here and now! The lads are in good fettle?
“Yes the team is good,” he insissted. “They are in the shape of their lives. They have prepared well but it is all about the performance on the day.
Consistenancy in everything they do is paramount. We feel that their consistency is up to the mark, but we will not be sure of that until they cross those white lines on Sunday. And that is the essence of sport at this level.
“Players are responsible for all of their performance at this level themselves.”
And you trust them?
“Absolutely, we trust them implicitly.”
Did you expect Galway to be in the final?
“I felt after the Leinster final that they were an excellent team, and that we might not have seen the last of them,” he insisted.
“I am not surprised that they are there. They will present a serious challenge. They have never been hungrier, given that they haven’t won one for 27 years.
“They will present our lads with a very serious challenge,” he signed off.