Kilkenny don’t look like going away any time soon

That was a most enjoyable All-Ireland hurling final as far as Kilkenny were concerned. From the word go Kilkenny were on the boil and I never really had any worries. It was a phenominal display from start to finish with all 18 players used making a serious contribution, writes D.J. Carey.

That was a most enjoyable All-Ireland hurling final as far as Kilkenny were concerned. From the word go Kilkenny were on the boil and I never really had any worries. It was a phenominal display from start to finish with all 18 players used making a serious contribution, writes D.J. Carey.

All the lads we expected to step up their performance from the last day answered the call. Even if they didn’t all play mighty, mighty, mighty games their physical attributes and determination were hugely improved on. Hurler of the year Michael Fennelly fought for balls during the opening 10 minutes like a man possessed.

Things might not have gone exactly right for him every time, but for me he epitomised the whole attitude of the team which was win, win and nothing else. A book will eventually be written sometime by someone about how this team is able to keep going, because to me it is incredible. You would think at some stage that you might see a bit of fraying at the edges, but Kilkenny left Croke Park on Sunday with everyone talking about them as the team to beat again next year.

How unreal is that after nine All-Ireland wins in 14 season? I never thought I would see the likes.

Serious pressure

Kilkenny made two changes, bringing in young Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley, and the team just rolled on. It is not easy for young players to come into a team in an All-Ireland and simply let rip. There are pressures and so on involved, but I think the training Kilkenny are doing is hardening up the players, mentally and physically.

Imagine young Walsh marking Jackie Tyrrell in training. He wouldn’t get nothing soft there. There wouldn’t be much more he could expect in a serious championship match. Jackie doesn’t know how to take it easy, so if any up and coming player can survive the Nowlan Park training, he is ready for the step up, apparently.

Certainly manager, Brian Cody and his selectors Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey appear to think so, and if they give the nod to a player, any player, it seems the player believes absolutely in the trust placed in them and they go out and perform. How many new players have we seen fail in the Kilkenny colours in recent years? Very few! The selectors don’t expose anyone to anything they are not ready to deal with. That is top class management.

The team has got into the realm of creating history now. Henry Shefflin has claimed a 9th All-Ireland winners medal on the field, and so too has Noel Hickey. Henry is the all time top championship scorer, and top scorer from play. He has achieved all this in a relately short time, 14 seasons. Christy Ring, Eddie Keher and others played for a much longer time.

Henry did it all after getting over two serious knee injuries, plus a bad shoulder injury. As Ali might say, he is entitled to shout “I am the greatest”. I know he won’t, but you know what I mean. It is no longer about hurling with some of them now. It is about writing history.

Henry a winner

Even a lot of Galway people were saying to me they would like to see Henry getting the 9th, but they wouldn’t be shouting for him. That is typical. The Kilkenny hurlers of this generation have captured the imagination of the nation. Of course people would like to see a new facing coming along and winning, but these players are admired because they simply amaze people by what they are able to do.

The way the game went was a reverse of the drawn match, and the Leinster final. Galway were dictated to from the start and Kilkenny played all the good hurling. Even the two first half goals for Galway were against the run of play.

Galway were lucky to be only four points behind at half-time because Kilkenny had played terrific hurling during that period. The Kilkenny game plan was solid, and someone was always left to mind the house at the back. The inter-action between the players was superb. They let Joe Canning drift out and field, but wherever he went he was picked up by someone. He wasn’t the danger he might be when he was out the field.

The way the likes of Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley came into the team and performed has to be inspiring to all young lads in the county. They can look at that pair and see that with the right attitude, with the right guidance and commitment they too could be stars.

Where to Kilkenny go from here? I honestly don’t know. We realise what is happening now cannot go on forever, but there is no indication at the moment that Kilkenny are on the slide. Remember, they came through a particularly tough campaign this season after losing the Leinster final, but to finish they way they did in Croke Park on Sunday must have shocked all would be contenders.

We are now looking foward to chasing the three in-a-row again. No one will think about retiring in a situation like that. They simply blew a very good Galway team out of the water.

Kilkenny have it every way. The fitness level and strength of the players is just incredible. Michel Fennelly was a gangly 6’ 4” fellow when he arrived. Now he is powerhouse.

Galway will have to have a serious look at things now. Last year we were talking about an emerging Dublin team after they won the National League. What happened? Dublin failed to show this season. Galway, for all their young and rich talent, will have to guard against something like that happening. They have a good management team. They all, players and management, learned a lot about each other this season. Hopefully, for the good of hurling, they will push on.

No one will take Galway lightly next year, so every match will be that bit tougher. Everyone will look at them and say this is how they played Kilkenny on three different occasions, so in terms of a game plan, they might have to come up with something different. That can be done. Didn’t Donegal do it in football this season?

Need a Plan B

They don’t seem to have a Plan B at the moment, but they have the winter to work something out.

Kilkenny have it every way. The fitness level and strength of the players is just incredible. Michel Fennelly was a gangly 6’ 4” fellow when he arrived. Now he is powerhouse.

I am probably giving Michael Dempsey all of the praise here. He is supervising all of this work, and each player has an individual programme, I believe. Maybe people don’t see the importance of this through the play. Richie Hogan, for example, made up five yards at speed to hook Iarla Tannian to get in a vital hook that led to a Kilkenny point at one stage. There was a really heavy passage of play involved there.

Hogan just ripped through it and turned a possible Galway attack into a Kilkenny score. You have to have some very specific conditioning work done to be able to survived a short blast of heavy duty play like that. All the Kilkenny players are able to do that. That is the level they are at, physically powerful yet nimble.

Then you get the drive from Brian (Cody), who never, ever wants to see a player give up on a ball. There was one time when we were well ahead during the second half when Richie Power lost a ball. Brian looked furious. The hands were waving, the cap was off. I thought for a second that Power was going to be called off. It was funny, but it was deadly serious at the same time.

These Kilkenny players know the rules. They are not easy on themselves. The word from Croke Park on Sunday was that they have no intention of dropping their standards. That is great news for Kilkenny hurling fans. What it means for all others I am not so sure.