In the 2012 All-Ireland senior hurling final replay against Galway, Cillian Buckley announced himself on the national stage.
He turned in a mature performance, way beyond his tender years as he claimed his first senior hurling All-Ireland winners medal.
Though Walter Walsh may have stolen the headlines by scoring 1-3 on his debut, the role Buckley played in that game should not be under estimated.
Named at half forward before moving to midfield, the Dicksboro man scored a point at a vital time for The Cats.
Joe Canning hit the post with a goal chance that would have brought Galway within a point, moments before the young ’Boro man slotted over.
Seconds later Cyril Donnellan was given his marching orders for a striking offence and with 12 minutes remaining it was more or less game over.
Kilkenny had All-Ireland title number 34. Buckley enjoyed his first golden moment.
This Sunday the ex-St Kieran’s College man won’t be the novice he was in 2012. However, he may come up against Conor Whelan, one of Galway’s most exciting prospects.
“Once we get out there we’re all on a level playing field,” Cillian suggested when he spoke about the big game. “We’ll have seven or eight lads with All-Irelands but we’ve a fair few on the panel who’ll be playing their first All-Ireland as well, so I wouldn’t read in to it too much.”
Much has been made in the build up to Sunday’s game about the fact that Galway play a more traditional style of hurling as opposed to the tactics employed by Waterford in the semi.
Buckley didn’t make assumptions as to how the Tribesmen might line up.
“Galway do play the more standard 15 on 15 game, but that’s not to say that on All-Ireland final day they won’t bring something totally new,” Buckley said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to match whatever challenges they bring us on the day.”
Though Buckley made his mark in the forwards in the infancy of his Kilkenny career, he is now very much an established part of the half back line.
With the retirements of Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh and J.J. Delaney after last year’s final, and the fact that Jackie Tyrrell is likely to miss out on Sunday, the Kilkenny backline is certainly short on the experience it had in previous years.
However, Buckley believes that there’s more than enough in terms of leadership within the current panel to cover all those losses.
“Look, Jackie has been a huge leader for Kilkenny for many years and he will be a huge loss if he doesn’t make it, but it terms of leaders, I’d have no fear we have the lads to follow in behind a do the likes of Jackie justice,” Buckley felt.
Lack of experience
With Kilkenny’s perceived lack of experience on the full-back line being one of the major talking points since Jackie’s injury, a lot has been made of the quality of Galway’s forwards and whether or not they can cause similar problems to the ones they posed against Cork and Tipperary in their past two games.
“They have a serious scoring threat. They put up a big score against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final and to beat Tipperary in a shoot-out in a semi-final was no mean feat,” he felt.
“They can score from any corner of the field, but that’s something we’ll have to be prepared for. We’re playing against players at training every night who are well capable of doing the same thing, but it’ll be a big challenge and something we’re going to have to shut down,” he said of the challenge of facing the scintillating Galway forwards.
One of the common themes of Kilkenny’s games so far this season has been that teams have been able to stay with Kilkenny up to a point, but when push comes to shove, the Cats pulled away and finished off opponents inside the closing 10 minutes.
Against Galway in the Leinster final it was a three point game with 10 minutes left. Kilkenny ran out seven point winners in the end thanks to a late flurry of points from Eoin Larkin and T.J. Reid.
It was a similar story against Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final.
With 20 minutes left there was a point in it. By the end Kilkenny led by six.
Buckley’s take on such things was rather pragmatic.
“There comes a point in a match when it’s do or die. We’ve learned over the years the easy way and the hard way that it’s a 70-minute match and you have to stay going for every minute,” he informed.
It may well be that it is this pragmatic approach that has helped Kilkenny attain so much success over the years. Come Sunday, it could be key to All-Ireland number three for Mr Buckley.