I AM an avowed admirer of J.J. Delaney and I make no apology for saying so. But then again, what Kilkenny supporter, or indeed for that matter, what hurling supporter would not be an admirer of the magical qualities the majestic Johnstown man who has decorated the game since first bounding onto the big stage so many years ago?
After the defeat by Tipperary in the All-Ireland final last year the pundits were coming up with a plethora of reasons why they knew that Tipp would win and why Kilkenny were slipping.
‘Spakes’ like “trying to get water from an empty well” were bandied about. “Henry will never come back”, was heard. “ Hickey is bet” was said and “J.J. will call it a day” was another.
Seven minutes into the All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford in Croke Park on Sunday, August Mr J.J. Delaney stood bould and strong behind two Waterford forwards, a six-foot four inch Kilkenny half back and springing like an Olympian, grabbed a dropping ball like a Red Kyte would snap a swift.
J.J. Delaney is calling nothing yet, certainly not a time limit with his wearing of the number seven shirt for the Kilkenny team.
He may have taken a few minutes to get to the tempo, but when J.J. Delaney got on the horse, God nor man was not going to knock him off.
It was terrific, heart-warming, joyous, inspirational, golden to watch him paralyse every attempt made by Waterford to come down his street. Like Gary Cooper at the “OK Coral”, J.J. was sharp, clinically so, and by the Gods he was in no humour to play gentile host.
His anticipation of impending disaster was uncanny. Remember one cross-field delivery midway through the first half from Noel Connors, who flighted the ball towards Stephen Molumphy, who had taken up a position behind Jackie Tyrrell? It was directly underneath where I was seated.
As the ball travelled, I saw Delaney fire his forward gears - which had carried him where his immediate opponent was sited - into rewind mode as he got back to block what might have been a very dangerous situation.
In what was a stellar half-back performance, J.J. Delaney - he who was supposed to call it a day - was immaculate. Never putting a foot wrong all day, his athleticism, courage and passion were infectious. His first possession under the Cusack Stand nearly cost him his neck.
In the second half, under the Hogan he repeated the catching episode with gusto.
Many are saying that this Kilkenny team is slipping. They are saying that the majority of them are on borrowed time.
There is talk that younger players will expose their lack of pace. Many of the players associated with that summation are defenders.
Instincts as clinical as ever
John Mullane scored 1-6 from play on Sunday. That was an excellent return from any forward.
Against a slowing defence, I ask you, what did the rest of the Waterford attackers score? I rest my case on that issue.
J.J. Delaney may - and I repeat, may - have lost a couple of inches from his pace, but other hurling attributes are still as sharp and perceptive as a scalpal.
His hurling instincts are still as clinical as ever. His positional senses are still unbelievably uncanny.
He didn’t meet his match in Croke Park.
For J.J. Delaney and the rest of the Kilkenny team it was certainly a case of mission accomplished, a job well done.
It may be in some people’s eyes a case of much done, but much more to do.
If that is the case, nobody will be more aware of it than the players and the management.