Walter Walsh put in a good shift
Saturday night lights! Cameras! Action! We got plenty of the latter in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, that’s for sure.
A glorious mild night, a fine stadium, a huge crowd and two teams who tore around at 90 miles an hour for 70 minutes plus extended injury time. In the end victory went to slightly the better team. As for the losers, they were entitled to be pleased with their performance and not unduly disappointed with the result.
Had Kilkenny won, nobody would have been predicting September glory. Because they lost, nobody should be reaching for sackcloth and ashes. This was, after all, the last Saturday of January.
But here’s the problem. Yes, Brian Cody’s charges were sharp and bright and breezy and they punched their weight. Thing is, the weight division they occupy right now is middleweight, not heavyweight, and they won’t be moving up the divisions just yet. They are where they are.
On the evidence of the second period, when they were always forcing the game and unable to make things happen in the Cork half of the field, it is not too early to declare that the biggest problem facing the county this season will be a lack of power and electricity up front.
Not enough heft, not enough ball-winning ability, not enough hands going up and pulling down the sliotar, not enough protection for the modicum of possession that was won on the change of ends. Patrick Collins didn’t have a save to make.
Richie Reid – and fair enough, he’s never been a career centre-forward – faded after a bright first half. Walter Walsh laboured manfully, as Walter always does, but he won’t carry a forward line without support. Alan Murphy and Conor Martin are not hunter-gatherers. John Donnelly couldn’t get into the proceedings when he was introduced, a remark that applied to all of the players brought on. It was an illustration of the rationale behind Cody’s long-standing unwillingness to make substitutions for the sake of it and on this occasion you had to concede the man has a point.
Fluent and Engaging
That every Kilkenny player from number seven to number 15 scored from play gives a substantial hint as to what kind of affair this was. It was fluent and engaging, which made it easy on the eye, but it wasn’t far removed from challenge-match stuff either. Hence the high scoring from both sides, an indication of the extent to which hurling has changed and quickened over the past two decades.
The equivalent fixture in the mid-1990s, played in the same conditions, would have ended up something like 1-14 to 0-15. It is not far off being an entirely different sport, and the lightness of the sliotar isn’t helping either.
Another sign of Cork’s superiority – to repeat, there wasn’t much in it – was the energy Eoin Murphy was required to expend. The Glenmore man pulled off fine saves from Alan Cadogan and Seamus Harnedy, the second one a slightly easier stop. Kilkenny would have been lucky to have Murphy in any era. In these straitened times they are positively blessed to be able to rely on him.
While the men in stripes will be fitter than most teams they face over the coming weeks simply because they have to be, there’s every chance of Saturday’s narrative becoming a pattern: a sprightly first half followed by a drop in output in the second half when the temperature is turned up.
Plea For Freedom
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Padraig Walsh’s point was as much a plea for freedom as it was a terrific score. There and then the Tullaroan man signed what, if the Kilkenny management do not make a virtue of being stubborn, ought to be his death warrant in the number three jersey.
Did Noel Hickey or J.J. Delaney ever burst out of defence like Walsh did on Saturday and lamp over a point from midfield? Of course not, and Cody would have had a fit if they’d tried to. Because that wasn’t their job. They were there to defend, not to attack. Restoring Walsh to right-half back would strengthen that line and mean that someone even reasonably competent could man the middle, with Walsh and Cillian Buckley on the flanks doing most of his work for him.
For most Kilkenny supporters present, this was their first trip to the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh. One trusts they enjoyed the visit. It was a terrific occasion and a pleasure to be there – and, gratifyingly if predictably, the stadium staff couldn’t have been more helpful.
One also trusts that the Cork county board and Cork city council will be getting together as soon as possible. The lack of lighting on the roads behind the South Stand made the area positively dangerous in the darkness on Saturday night.