BEING ‘Ordinary Joes’ was part of Kilkenny’s greatness. Egos don’t exist in the hurling camp and the whole group was driven by a simple desire, which was to be successful, writes John Knox.
Selector Michael Dempsey, a native of Ballyadams, Co Laois, has been part of the Kilkenny senior set-up for nearly a decade now. There was no secret formula to the Noresiders continued success, he would tell you.
“Part of the Kilkenny thing is that the players are exceptionally ordinary,” was the former Laois football manager’s take on things. “Playing hurling at the highest level is something they want to do.
“It is all very ordinary. It is very enjoyable. It is great to be involved. Everyone has their feet on the ground. That is a huge strength.”
Team cohesion and team dynamnic were hugely important, he stressed. It was all very personal in the Kilkenny camp.
“It is personal between all the players involved, not just the 15 who make the team,” Mr Dempsey continued. “They give for each other. They make huge sacrifices all year in terms of lifestyle and so on.
“When they train and play matches it is pay back time. You need to get what you can out of the matches and out of the training. These players never take it easy.
Serious about sport
“They are serious about their sport. They want to achieve. It is part of what they are. It is part of the culture in Kilkenny. It is part of their life style. They judged themselves by total commitment to the jersey and to the cause.”
The players were amateurs, but in their attitude and approach to sport they were very professional in every aspect of their preparations. With the players it was all about being right on the day.
“They have got that down to a fine art,” Mr Dempsey continued. “They are able to have things right physically and mentally when the need is greatest. The players deserve great credit for that.”
Sunday was a typical example. While popular opinion didn’t give Waterford much of a chance, the Leinster champions had to be right mentally or otherwise they could have been caught.
Within the Kilkenny camp the attitude never softened. Waterford’s form against Galway in the last match sounded a warning that was heeded.
The team performed well, Mr Dempsey felt, and he was hopefully there was even better to come. Sunday’s semi-final was about “doing the job, getting a result.”
“When you are expected to win comfortably, there can be an extra degree of difficulty trying to perform,” Mr Dempsey reminded. “In that regard, our performance was a good one.”
He said no one ever knew for sure how talk of an easy result would impact on players.
“You just hope players don’t start thinking that the match is won before it even starts,” he said. “If that happens it is a problem. If there was ever a group made to cope with such things it is this Kilkenny group.”
Ready to perform
And now, irrespetive of the opposition in the final, Tipperary or Dublin, the Cats would be ready to perform again.
“The players love all lthis,” the former Kilkenny under-21 team trainer continued. “They enjoy it and they bring a great joy to training and matches, although there is pressure there. Earlier this year people might have said that Kilkenny were finished because they were on the go for so long.”
Come championship time, things never looked like that. Kilkenny were decent against Wexford. They were decent against Dublin. And they were decent against Waterford.
“There is room for improvement, but Kilkenny are back where they wanted to be,” he assured. “The defeat in last year’s All-Ireland final could have shattered the team and the group. But this is the life the players have chosen. Their commitment and dedication carried them through.
“Last year they could have just said I am sick of it, I have achieved it all. They could have lost that extra edge that makes the difference at this level. They didn’t. These guys are special and exceptional. The will to win is as strong as it ever was.”
Because the hurling journey has been so long for Kilkenny - September’s final will be sixth on the trot - there was also the danger of burn out, of players losing their appetite. The players love of the game, of getting out training, made them all but immune to that.
“The group dynamic is wonderful,” the selector/trainer insisted. “While the players come from a big spread of clubs, they are all very good friends. A sort of club team in county jersies I suppose is a way you could put it. It works. It works very well.”