THE BUILD-UP to an All-Ireland final involves so much pressure from a number of avenues - media, team-mates, trainers and supporters - that you can understand why hurlers experience such a release of tension, win or lose, once the final whistle blows, writes Trevor Spillane.
However, for the Kilkenny senior hurlers there is no chance to turn that valve and let loose. Sunday’s draw means everything gets bottled up again and stored for another three weeks.
“It was disappointing,” was the honest opinion of centre-back Brian Hogan when asked to sum up the 70 minutes which ended with he and his team-mates left in an emotional limbo. “You’re a point up and hoping you can hold on but when that free was given that was it. All you can do is get on with it and look forward to the replay.”
The O’Loughlin Gaels clubman looked and sounded tired when we spoke in the dressing-room after the game, but it was surprising to hear his wish that the third meeting with Galway this year wasn’t as far away.
It’s a pity that we have to wait three weeks for the replay,” he said. “It’s not fair on the club lads either (a reference to the fact that the resumption of local games will be delayed even further) but we’ll probably be glad of the break because there’s a lot of sore bodies here in the dressing-room.
“In one respect you’d be glad of the break because you’ll get the week to recover and get your body right, particularly with the under-21s gone away now to concentrate on their All-Ireland final,” he added. “We’ll have one hard week of training after that, then a week of winding down. That’ll be our routine, the only usual thing in what has been an unusual situation for us.”
Given that it’s 53 years since a senior hurling final ended in a draw, it’s a completely new experience for the county and most of the country.
“Everyone says that it’s been so long since there was a draw in the All-Ireland final you’d be telling them to shut up!” said Hogan. “However it’s one of these things where if you come from behind you’re delighted, but if you’re in the lead you’re left saying that you could have held on. I’ve had plenty of draws with my club, including county finals, but it’s usually the team who learns the most from the first day who goes on to win the second day.”
Both sides learned their share of things about the opposition on Sunday, but things were the same from their Leinster final meeting. Galway continued to rotate their forwards while the Kilkennymen followed their markers. They moved around to such an extent that at one stage Hogan was almost a wing-forward, then within minutes was back on the edge of the square!
“We (the backs) knew that it was going to be that way alright,” he said. “We constantly trying, as much as possible, to keep some sort of formation together. In fairness to the six of us we’re comfortable playing in any of the six positions. We’ve done so for our clubs so it’s not a major issue if Tommy (Walsh) ends up on the edge of the square like he did or if I do. The important thing is that there are bodies there, that it’s not a case of one guy being isolated in there on his own.
“Whether we hurled more cleverly in the second half or harder, we made better inroads,” he said of Kilkenny’s performance on the resumption. “We created more chances than we did in the first half in which we made no impact, much like the Leinster final. You can take positives from that as well.”
Kilkenny almost suffered a repeat of the Leinster final, which was a clear source of frustration for the 2011 captain.
“We knew what we were facing before the match, but were still behind at half-time. We went in five points down, which was good considering we were seven points behind at different stages.
“We knew from the Leinster final that we could be in a similar situation, but we didn’t impose our game - we fell into that trap again,” he added. “In the second half we were much better. We began to play a bit smarter, but I think we won the harder ball which meant we had possession going forward - the first half we were on the back-foot everywhere.”
A lot of Kilkenny’s success came through the way they cancelled out Galway talisman Joe Canning in the second half.
“That was a credit to J.J. (Delaney),” Hogan said of his defensive colleague. “It was always going to be a massive battle between the two of them but J.J. did a great job.
“You’re never going to keep a guy like Joe scoreless,” he added. “Just like it’s a big ask to keep Henry scoreless, it’s not going to happen. The way the game has gone nowadays it’s very much a defensive group game - throughout the match you’re not going to be with your man for the full 70 minutes so you rely on your team-mates to track the run for you while you pick up their man. It’s very much a team thing.”
Everything seemed to be going well for Kilkenny in that second half, until Niall Burke grabbed Galway’s second goal. Hogan felt the blow of conceding that score - literally.
“I was tracking back for the ball and collided with a team-mate - I don’t know who it was,” Hogan recalled. “It’s one of those things we spoke about before the game, that only one man would go up for the ball with the others there for the break.
“There’s no blame associated with that,” he continued. “It’s better that guys are going looking for the ball rather than going gung-ho.”
At that stage Kilkenny could have begun to over-analyse their bad luck and let their heads drop, but Hogan knew his colleagues were too strong mentally to let it happen. It will, he reckoned, stand to them again in the replay.
“You can look at it one of two ways,” he said. “You can say ‘ah poor us, this went wrong and that was against us’ or you can look at what was under your control. We had a couple of opportunities to close the game out and didn’t take them; we didn’t hurl in the first half and gave them a five-point lead.
“It’s more productive to look at the things that are in your control and to make sure they don’t happen again,” he said. “You can waste energy worrying about what you didn’t do or you can focus on what you’ll do right the next day.”
That mental toughness will be tested again in the replay. The minds might be tired now, just like the bodies, but the Cats will be ready for September 30.
“I sound like I’m in the depths of depression, but I’m not - I’m just so tired and sore after that game!” smiled Hogan. “Obviously you’re so focused on the day that a draw does leave you with a feeling of anti-climax but it’s not the end of the world. It would be far worse if we were sat here and the result had gone the other way and you’re left waiting until next year to get your chance again.
“We have three weeks to get ourselves right,” he finished. “We’ll rally the troops - we’ll be ready for the replay.”