A vote of confidence to all from J.J.

Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny) is chased by Andrew Smith (Galway) during the Senior Hurling Leinster Final in Croke Park. (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
We were back in J.J. Delaney’s home patch - the Jim Maher Memorial Park - in Johnstown.

We were back in J.J. Delaney’s home patch - the Jim Maher Memorial Park - in Johnstown.

His own lads were honouring him with a special match, special in the sense that many of his former inter-county colleagues were gathered to parfticipate in a game in where J.J. and his former mentor fashioned an All Star team to take on his Fenians colleagues.

It was a match, but we use the word loosely.

On J.J’s team were Mick Kavanagh, Tommy Walsh, P.J. Delaney, Damien Joyce from Galway, Henry Shefflin, Damien Hayes, Galway, Aidan Fogarty and one D.J. Carey. It was an occasion cloaked in style.

Speaking of the All-Ireland final, we were mindful of the attendance of Hayes, Joyce and Ollie Canning, who was unable to play because of injury. J.J. lasted about 10 minutes because of a dead leg injury. More about the game elsewhere.

J.J., next weekend will be different and your entire mind-set will have changed when you crawl out of the bed on All-Ireland final morning?

“For sure,” he smiled back, “and in all honesty I do not know exactly what I might do, what I might say to people, because I would be very quiet the morning of the final, even going on the bus. But yes, it will be a culture shock.”

Will the fact that you will be analysing the action and commenting on Sky TV help?

“That too is a brand new experience. It is intense, and the end product that the public see is far removed from what goes on in between shots, and commercial breaks, as you well know from your days with Setanta,” he explained.

In a sense J.J., that has its own constraints and demands?

“It certainly does in that for one you just cannot display favouritism in your comment,” he continued. “It is mandatory to stay neutral, and this is not an easy call next weekend, given that there are lads out there fighting for their very lives to win an All-Ireland final, and I am not with them.”

How do you see the game develop?

“The first thing that is so important is that all of our lads must be 100% fit,” he opened. “The rumour machine is in overdrive from what I hear, but that is nearly the norm for Kilkenny.

“I think that this is going to be the biggest ask of all from Kilkenny to win this final.”


“For a number of reasons,” he observed. “I think Galway are a very different team this year than in previous years. Is it a better team than the 2012 team I ask myself, and I feel that it is a bigger team in the places where you need stature, like on your half forward line.

“I know we beat them in the Leinster final, but they were a real threat for a long time. They have already beaten Cork and Tipp. People will say that it was not a good Cork team.

“ Galway didn’t know that before they met. If we were meeting them, Brian (Cody) and the lads would be emphasising that there was no such thing as a poor Cork team. So there you are. Galway beat Cork and drove over 20 wides.

“Joe Canning, a marvellous hurler, drove 11 or 12 wides. Then they took on Tipp. People said afterwards that it was a poor Tipp team. But again, if we were playing Tipp we wouldn’t be saying it was a poor Tipp team.

“It is easy give an opinion with the benefit of hindsight. I thought Galway, who nearly lost the game, should have won by more. They have great, fast forwards and Joe Canning not the star - yet.

“Their midfielders of Burke and Smith are big, strong and good hurlers. Their defenders are good, despite Seamus Callanan skinning them. They have a very good goalkeeper, so as I said, Galway have a great chance, based on what they have done so far.

“They are not going to Croke Park to make up the numbers. It is a big ask for our lads.”

Can Kilkenny pull this one off?

“We can,” he insisted. “I keep using we as if I will be out there (laugh). Our lads have been working together for years, and a great bond has been established. Joey Holden has made the number three jersey his own. He is a sticky, fast - faster than me - and a good hurler who knows the trade of a full-back.

“I have no fears of the lad. If Jackie does not line out, he will be a loss, but Shane Prendergast is born to be a good defender. I would back him all the way to perform. So I have no fears.

“And, of course, the best vote of confidence, and the best team speech of all is the one when Brian announces the team, and you are on. I know what the reaction from players is when the team is announced. You grow in stature.

“It means that Brian Cody, the greatest manager of all time, has entrusted you with a Kilkenny jersey. That is the biggest vote of confidence you can get. You know that he trusts you.

“It is very personal, or at least that is how I felt. He trusted me to do the job. You feel important. You feel that you just cannot let him, or the rest of the lads down. It is a very special feeling. I suppose it is called teamwork.”

Will Kilkenny win?

“I am confident they will. Our forwards are lethal, and in spite of what the Galway forwards will score - and they will need goals - I feel our forwards are too experienced, too skilful for the Galway defence.

“ Time was you would beat Galway by holding Joe Canning. That has changed. But we never had that situation in Kilkenny. You could hold half of our forwards, and the other three would skin you.

“Have Galway defenders to hold all of our forwards? Not by a long shot. It will be tight, but T.J. Reid, Richie Hogan, Eoin Larkin are tried and trusted. And will he use Richie Power?

“I suspect he will, and you remember what he did last year against Limerick and Tipp. He could be the nigger in the woodpile for Galway. It will be a great game, but Kilkenny will shade it.”