THE Leister final experience, bad though it was, didn’t come as a complete surprise to Kilkenny because for them it was nothing more than reality being played out, writes John Knox.
Galway’s stunning performance earned them a surprising 2-21 to 2-11 victory and screaming headlines of praise the following day, but why people were shocked at the outcome was a source of some amusement to Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody.
“We went into the Leinster final being written up as an unbeatable team,” the manager of 14 seasons reminded when he placed that game in context relative to Sunday’s All-Ireland final. “Anyone who would say that would be off the wall. There is no such thing as an unbeatable team. That myth was shattered in the Leinster final.”
And now, after Kilkenny turned in an equally impressive showing against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, hints of the same talk were everywhere to be heard again.
“We had a good day against Tipperary, no doubt about that,” the James Stephens man continued when it was suggested Kilkenny would be red hot favourites again this time. “But no more than to say that because we were slaughtered by Galway the last day that we will be slaughtered again by them, neither does it mean that the defeat will motivate us to produce something terrific.
A super team
“Kilkenny were built up as a super team, and there is a danger the same will happen now after beating Tipperary.
“The final will take place in front of our eyes. Who knows what course it will take? We weren’t going to panic over the defeat. We didn’t see it as a fundamental problem, a lack of honesty or anything like that. But it was a huge, huge lesson for us.”
Mr Cody, who has been at the helm since 1999 and supervised the winning of eight All-Irelands and four National League/Championship doubles, admitted that the Leinster final defeat was very much on everyone’s mind during the lead up to Sunday.
“If that had happened in an All-Ireland semi-final the year was over,” he reminded. “Very quickly everyone understood the really, really bad beating they gave to us. Now we have an opportunity to do something about it.”
The mood in the camp has been deadly serious. The players came back after the provincial final totally focussed and totally determined to try, as Cody put it, to salvage the season.
“Thanks be to God we got to the final,” he said with an air of delight. “Now the challenge is to try and win it.”
In the Leinster final he said Galway played a “terrific quality of hurling” and they were generally “excellent”.
“It wasn’t that we discovered that on the day,” he smiled. “I always regarded Galway as one of the teams capable of winning the All-Ireland final every year. I would always have said they would take off, and no one would handle them.
At different level
“They hit that day in the Leinster final and they were at a different level to us altogether in every aspect of play. It wasn’t a surprise. Obviously we didn’t want it to happen. We weren’t expecting it like that, nor was anyone else either.
“But you are dealing with top quality players, and they can do that to you.”
In black and white terms, Kilkenny would have to admit they just didn’t perform. They weren’t competitive, according to Cody.
“We were out-fought and out-hurled. We went back and regrouped and worked hard,” he assured. “The minds are obviously focussed, but there was no major mind-set change, no major tactical change for the next game which was against Limerick.
“We took on that challenge. We were fairly tentative in the first half. In the second half we picked things up a bit. I would have huge trust in the players. You could see their attitude, their level of disappointment after the game.
“You could see they were going to be completely honest in their efforts to try and rectify things. Their attitude was top class. At the end of the day you go back and work. There is no magical way of doing it. We didn’t envisage any major or dramatic changes since that defeat.”
Kilkenny could offer the excuse that they were missing their midfield and J.J. Delaney from defence, but they never went down the road of making excuses.
“We trust in our panel,” Mr Cody insisted. “I would never even consider using something like that as an excuse. Not even if we six other lads would it have made a difference that day. We got a bit of a hiding. It wasn’t down to injuries.”
He said every game was a separate entity. No team should be in a position where one defeat shattered their confidence, and Kilkenny certainly weren’t.
“Our team has been together too long for that to happen,” he insisted. “There would be wonder was the team coming to an end. That was speculated upon in the press. That is fair enough. That didn’t occur to me at all, though.”
Kilkenny were a well versed crew, so their experience should be of enormous benefit on Sunday, it was suggested.
“I don’t know,” he offered. “Going back through the history of sport, a team in its first big challenge can grab it by the scruff of the neck and just take off as if it were simply a challenge match. There would be no nerves whatsoever. Other times the other thing can happen.
“Sometimes a team that is on the go a long, long time can see the potential down side of things and it just doesn’t happen for them. I don’t think at this stage that will happen either team.
Below par against Cork
“Both will put in a good performance on the day, and a good game will be fought out on the pitch and the better team will win.”
Form in training has always been important to Mr Cody and fellow selectors, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty.
“You like to see form coming into any game,” the manager said. “Our form is good. Galway’s form is good. They were outstanding against us.
“Against Cork they played at a level below that, but at a level where they were very comfortable winning the game. There is consistency on both sides, and there won’t be much in it either way on Sunday.”
PS – Kilkenny’s record since Brian Cody took over as manager in 1999 is:
1999: Leinster champs; All-Ireland finalists; won Oireachtas.
2000: Leinster and All-Ireland champs.
2001: Leinster champs.
2002: Leinster, All-Ireland and NHL champs.
2003: Leinster, All-Ireland and NHL champs.
2004: All-Ireland finalists.
2005: Leinster and NHL champs; Walsh Cup winners.
2006: Leinster, All-Ireland and NHL champs; Walsh Cup winners.
2007: Leinster and All-Ireland champs; Walsh Cup winners.
2008: Leinster and All-Ireland champs.
2009: Leinster, All-Ireland and NHL champs; Walsh Cup winners.
2010: Leinster champs.
2011: Leinster and All-Ireland champs.
2012: NHL and Walsh Cup champs.