The end of a memorable journey arrived in Semple Stadium last Sunday. Now we must wait and see what the future holds for the greatest team in the history of hurling. But be in no doubt, the next journey starts now!
The current team has evolved over the term of Brian Cody’s management. Many great players have already called time on their involvement with the Cats during that period.
Sunday’s loss to our great rivals Cork will see further change emerging in 2014. What that change involves no-one knows, but it is a way of life in Kilkenny.
Against many odds Kilkenny performed well this year. However, despite great victories over Tipperary and Waterford the team has not played to the high standards of previous years.
It is important to acknowledge that the best team won last Sunday. I always felt that Cork had the ability to beat Kilkenny, but I was not sure if the Cork players had the same belief.
This was a game that was always going to trouble Kilkenny but the hope was that the side’s experience would see them over the line and into another All-Ireland semi-final.
Kilkenny struggled for much of last Sunday’s game. Cork came with a game plan to use the wide expanses of Semple Stadium but in truth Kilkenny contributed to their own downfall with a number of unforced errors.
Last week I came across many Kilkenny people who wondered what impact the referee Barry Kelly might have on the game. We now know it was considerable. Still, many of Kilkenny’s problems were of their own making.
No matter what way one analyses the dismissal of Henry Shefflin it was a very harsh call. Every Kilkenny supporter (and probably every hurling fan irrespective of their county allegiance) will be disappointed if this is to be the end of Shefflin’s inter-county career.
Even before his dismissal many Kilkenny players seemed agitated with some of Kelly’s decisions. Sadly there is history between Kelly and Kilkenny that has now been compounded by Sunday’s events in Thurles.
One wondered how Kelly failed to take the appropriate action against a Cork defender shortly after half-time when Eoin Larkin received a wild challenge as he bore down on the Cork goal. It appeared to be a clear red card offence.
An unwelcome feature of the first half was Kilkenny’s inaccuracy from frees. Three different free-takers were tried and none will have happy memories of their efforts.
Had those opportunities been taken Kilkenny would have at least been level with Cork at the interval.
The odds were heavily stacked against Kilkenny when playing with 14 players. Cork deployed their spare defender astutely at the heart of their defence as he cut out many menacing attacks.
Some of Kilkenny’s tactics, though, played right into the hands of that spare central defender. Playing the wings might have been a better option.
One had to admire Kilkenny’s gallant effort in the second half. The penalty for the foul on Eoin Larkin only yielded a point when a goal was badly required at the time.
I accept the referee’s decision to ask for the penalty to be retaken, but almost as many players were ahead of the ball on the second occasion it was struck.
Cork’s youthfulness and pace were decisive factors in their team’s five point victory. The Rebels had Kilkenny in trouble on many occasions forcing the Cats to concede frees which the unerring Patrick Horgan converted.
Kilkenny worked very hard in the closing ten minutes but despite the honest endeavour from the players, the path to the Cork goal was well shielded.
Even in defeat the admiration for this great team and their mentors continues to grow. For sure many hurling followers will be happy to see new champions emerging and the upcoming semi-finals have delivered a couple of unexpected pairings.
Kilkenny supporters left Thurles last Sunday very disappointed but acknowledging the remarkable achievements of the team.
They will quickly come to terms with the defeat and look to the future. What they won’t forget in a hurry was Shefflin’s harsh dismissal in what just might be his last inter-county game.
Something tells me, though, that there just might be one more chapter in the story of hurling’s greatest ever player.