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An All-Ireland for Kilkenny? There are reasons for hoping

Ashling Dalton

Reporter:

Ashling Dalton

An All-Ireland for Kilkenny? There are reasons for hoping

Colin Fennelly, Kilkenny Captain

At the moment, when it comes to the question whether there will be a hurling championship, all the Kilkenny supporters have is speculation, and the odd moment of reflection.
As a result, it is the perfect time to reflect on what we have seen from Kilkenny thus far, and speculate whether it gives Kilkenny supporters reason to think another title will land on Noreside very soon.
As is commonplace, whenever a team is in a period of transition people often feel that a place in an All-Ireland final - never mind an All-Ireland title - would be way down the list of priorities. It should all about being competitive, building a strong panel who would be capable of success.
Kilkenny must have not got the memo however, as they defied all expectations, including the ones within their own county. They got to the All-Ireland, while simultaneously building an impressive array of players.
You may have called it a one-off, a fluke that would not be replicated easily the year after. This view was even more reinforced by the manner of Kilkenny’s defeat to Tipperary in the final.
The question has danced around all supporters minds since that day, if Kilkenny could no longer live without the big teams on the big days, they cannot possibly think they will win an All-Ireland anytime soon.
However, it is a serious opinion of others that there are, in fact, plenty of reasons to be hopeful that there will be senior success in Kilkenny again, and they are very legitimate reasons indeed.
Let us start with last year’s All-Ireland, particularly the first half. While many people will only remember the day for its disappointing result , it is important, very important to note how competitive Kilkenny were for the first 25 minutes, right up to the point of Richie Hogan’s sending off. They had Tipperary very worried. Kilkenny were just as ruthless and just as intense with their tackling as they were against Limerick in the semi final. It took the moment when Niall O’Meara got a goal right before half time for Tipperary to finally get a grip on the game.
Now it cannot be argued that the game was marred significantly by the sending off, a moment Tipperary took full advantage of.
There was enough evidence to suggest that had Kilkenny had their full complement on the field for the full game that day, then the result may have been very different.
Of course, all of that is consigned to history now, but that has not stopped many people wondering why Kilkenny had not a contingency plan? Maybe they did. Maybe losing a player, a leader like Richie Hogan was too big a loss for the team to bear. It can be argued that the loss affected Kilkenny’s psyche so much to the point that they fell to Tipperary’s roving, attacking game easier than they would have liked.
The thing is, losing the All-Ireland may just be the best thing that ever happened to Kilkenny in the long run, particularly from the perspective of the younger players.
They say you have to lose an All-Ireland to win an All-Ireland, meaning you have to endure the pain of letting a title slip through your fingers to make sure you win that title next year, and silence the doubters.
No better team than Kilkenny to store that hurt and pain for the next time they get to meet Tipperary!
It ties into a statistic that will give supporters cause for hope; whenever Brian Cody was bested by another team in a final or championship game, the next time they met, Brian Cody rarely got beaten a second time.
Another reason why Kilkenny might be successful soon lies in one of the lessons Brian Cody would have learned from last year - how Kilkenny play.
The Cats were heavily criticised for being one-dimensional, almost hitting the ball into the forward line in the hope that anyone would catch it.
In the modern era, where hurling is now dissected and analysed more than it ever has been, teams now put a lot of emphasis on possession play and decision making.
If the Leinster final loss to Wexford gave loud warning signs, then surely the All-Ireland was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Cody. The manager saw that Kilkenny would have to alter part of their game in order to absorb any sucker punches that come their way.
That includes being careful about where they play the ball into and to use the ball smartly.
In this year’s league for example, we have seen the likes of the Kilkenny half-back line attacking - no, going further into the attack - then they would have in previous years.
There is a lot more bite and attack to Kilkenny’s play. Previously, they would have had a lot of players over six foot tall who were capable of winning high ball, but the variation of height is now evident when you see the likes of Walter Walsh playing alongside Bill Sheehan or Ger Aylward. They can attack the ball and get as scores as effectively as their taller teammates, but the deliveries need to be favourable.
Also pair that with the ever-present Cody mantra where you put pressure on the opposition when they have the ball and play with a ferocious intensity, then you are always going to be in a favourable position.
As things stand, despite this time of great uncertainty, Kilkenny are definitely in a strong position. They had qualified for the quarter-finals of the league and put themselves in a position to test their abilities against all the top teams.
There was a setback when Adrian Mullen was injured but Brian Cody did not make it a big deal, showing he has full confidence in his panel.
If there is to be a championship this year, Kilkenny would be in just a strong a position as they were last year. Quietly under the radar, but waiting in the wings, ready for the perfect moment to strike for glory.