All-Ireland hurling final day is as traditional as bacon and cabbage, as drisheen, as a pint of plain, but there was something surreal about Sunday week’s event. For a start, I cannot remember getting ready for the final with the kitchen light on, writes Barrie Henriques.
I cannot remember going to the final with all motors forced to switch on the lights. As someone remarked on the packed Ronan’s bus, it really felt like going to a National League engagement.
But as the bus got closer to GAA headquarters, the nerves started to shift. And suddenly the whole ethos morphed into the “rale alley Daly”.
Inside Croker, the lights – what would the Link, Diamond or Heaslip make of it?
We were in the zone, and expectancy was high.
Whilst all of Kilkenny hurling teams are the sum of the parts, in-house traditionalists will point out that the Lone Star Southern principality were major contributors to the end game. Within 336 hours of Eoin Larkin collecting the Liam McCarthy, many of the companions in arms will face off in the local championship, which now become the core issue of hurling life within the county.
This column felt obliged to appraise the Southern connection, and the contribution.
David Herity will take plenty from the game, not least of which was a Celtic Cross, and whilst he didn’t get a huge amount of work, he will remember the game for a lot of good reasons. One suspects that the sun caused him problems in the first half, and was a major factor in the David Burke goal after 14 minutes.
Burke’s second goal was unstoppable, given that it was shot from two yards out. Jonathan Glynn’s goal into the top left hand corner was the perfect shot, leaving the Dunnamaggin man with little or no chance of blocking it.
Kieran Joyce: There were no Southerners on the full-back line, but we had a super performer on the half-back line in Kieran Joyce. He has grown into the position with increasing confidence, and his contribution in the win was hugely important. Time and again, he grabbed dropping ball, in particular puck-outs from James Skehill.
Whilst the Galway forwards switched all over the park, the Kilkenny defence, this time round the block held their shape. Joyce grabbed two massive balls that needed serious attention inside the opening 15 minutes. His positioning was sure, and focussed. The highlight of his game will centre on a tremendous free from 85 yards from the Galway goal at the Hill 16 end, which got his name on the scoresheet and enhanced his growing reputation as a competent and efficient defender. It has been a memorable trip for the young Rower Inistioge defender.
Michael Fennelly, back to his wonderful best, was outstanding in his usual centrefield area. When this man is firing on all cylinders, no greater sight can be found on a hurling pitch. He was responsible for the domination of the Kilkenny effort in the middle third of the park. He worked tirelessly, and one little nugget will live long in the memory.
Galway attacking up the Hogan Stand side, started by Conor Cooney. Having carried the ball some 60 yards, and looking to cause serious damage to the Kilkenny cause, Mick Fennelly raced some 40 yards to catch young Cooney. As the Galway youngster attempted the strike, Fennelly, with the deftest of skills tapped the sliothar away.
He was back to his brilliant best, and the difference was very apparent on the scoreboard.
Richie Power: The Carrickshock man came roaring out of his box. He may have had better seasons, but his demeanour round the inside attacking line gave notice than he was fired for a big game.
He inter-changed with the young lad, Walter Walsh to confuse the Galway corner backs, and then when Eoin Larkin’s effort was blocked by a falling Skehill, he was in like a black mamba to clip the breaking ball to the back of the Galway net. That goal was seminal in the overall context. David Burke had gone mad with two goals two minutes before.
Dark thoughts were starting to grey up, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Kilkenny’s needs were roaring, and the Carrickshock man came with the goods. He has seldom had a better, more influential day in the back and amber.
T.J. Reid: The Ballyhale Shamrock must surely have the greatest engine known to man. His work rate is, and certainly was on the big day phenomenal. He expended a huge amount of energy making life as difficult for Galway players as he could. Late in the game he was seen taking a hand pass from Jackie Tyrrell in the left corner of defence and clattering it long and hard away from the danger areas.
Within seconds he was teasing and breaking the heart of the Galway full-back to fire a shot at the substitute Galway goalie, Fergal Flannery, which ultimately ended with a Walter Walsh gem of a goal. His contribution was stellar.
Name galaxy after Sheff
Walter Walsh: So much will be written about one of the greatest debuts in any major final. They wrote miles – no pun intended – about the sixteen-year-old Lester Piggott when he was the youngest jockey in the world to win an Epsom Derby on Never Say Die.
Watch the papers go on Wallie. We start it elsewhere.
Henry Shefflin: Nine All-Ireland medals. A star? Not really. He is better than that. They should name a galaxy after him. Nior beigh a leithead an aris!
Sing it out my friends.
Noel Hickey: What a reception he got from the loyal Kilkenny support. They love their heroes in Kilkenny, and they don’t come any bigger than the Dunnamaggin farmer. Terrific to see him get his ninth, a true hurling man, with a hurling pedigree well founded in his native place down South.
Colin Fennelly: No sooner on than the green flag was fluttering. A predator of the greatest value, with a pedigree and heart to match. He has many aspects of his uncle Liam, in particular his ability to create gold from an alloy. His timing is impeccable, and his enthusiasm for a challenge unquenchable.
As the old people would say “briseann an duchas tre tsullaibh an caith”.
Michael Rice: So very sad to see the most complete hurler a mere – in the nicest sense - observer. What a truly magnanimous special mention was made by captain Larkin. Did not the hair on the nape of your neck bristle when the thunderous applause and cheering came as a result?
The men south of the 52nd parallel will tear into the fray within a couple of weeks, well enthused to do their clubs proud. They say all politics is local, and while the All-Ireland embraces a greater conglomerate of unity, you can’t bate local faction.