A Grenagh legend who deserved an All Star
ALTHOUGH he had been earmarked as a potential senior inter-county player in both codes since his under-age days, Tom Kenny was four years out of minor ranks before being drafted on to the hurling squad in 2003.
Cork had already played four games in the league by the time the Grenagh clubman was afforded to opportunity to display his wares at the top level that season, making his debut against Tipperary at Thurles.
He retained his place for the remainder of the campaign, doing enough to convince new boss Donal O'Grady and his co-selectors that he deserved the chance to show what he could do in the white heat of championship battle.
Lining out at wing-back, he turned in a highly impressive display as Cork accounted for Clare in the Munster semi-final, and he followed up with a man-of-the-match performance in the provincial decider against Waterford.
Victory over the Decies meant he had gained his first major honour on the hurling front with Cork, having spent three fruitless seasons with the Under 21s prior to that. He played on both Cork minor teams in 1999, winning a Munster medal with the footballers when he served up a memorable display at wing back in the final against Kerry.
He picked up a Munster Under 21 medal and an All-Ireland junior medal in football two years later, but he missed out on an All-Ireland intermediate hurling medal after being omitted from the squad for the final against Wexford.
In the circumstances, his rise to prominence with the senior hurlers in 2003 wouldn't have been widely predicted, as the perception was he was more likely to make a breakthrough with the footballers at the time
He did feature in one Munster senior championship campaign in football, but once he got his chance with the hurlers, it quickly became obvious which direction his playing career was going to take.
Heading into the 2003 All-Ireland final, he would have been a front-runner for an All-Star award at wing-back, but he endured an uncomfortable opening 20 minutes against Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh, and it cost him, despite doing well when moved to midfield in a switch with John Gardiner afterwards.
He was at wing-back again the following year for the championship opener against Limerick, but he teamed up at midfield with Jerry O'Connor for the first time in the 2004 Munster final. While Cork were beaten by Waterford in an epic decider, ironically that was the day when the team took on a shape which made it a virtually unstoppable force for the rest of the championship and beyond.
Aside from Kenny and O'Connor developing into the one of the most formidable midfield pairings ever to represent Cork, legendary centre-back Brian Corcoran, making his first championship start since the 2000 All-Ireland semi final, delivered big-time on coming out of retirement to fill the full-forward berth.
The result was that the mentors came up with a team formation that enabled Cork to garner All-Ireland glory in 2004 and 2005, avenging the 2003 defeat by Kilkenny in '04 and retaining the title at Galway's expense in '05.
They were denied the three-in-a-row by the Cats in 2006, and it wasn't until this year that Cork returned to the All-Ireland final stage with a squad containing only two survivors –Tom Kenny and Brian Murphy – from the glory days under Donal O'Grady and John Allen.
Indeed, Kenny was the sole member of the 2003 side still on board, and he brought the curtain down on a distinguished eleven-year stint at the top level when announcing his retirement from inter-county hurling last week.
During it, he turned in innumerable outstanding displays, using his blistering turn of foot and impeccable ball control to regularly create and take scores with his trademark runs from midfield.
He was strongly in the running for an All-Star award on several occasions, but he never got one, and it has to be viewed as a gross injustice that he was constantly overlooked. Cork's failure to claim any silverware no doubt militated against his chances in 2007 and 2008, as perhaps did Jerry O'Connor's selection between 2004 and 2006, given that it's very rare for two players from the same county to be accommodated at midfield.
That he was denied All-Star recognition, however, did nothing to diminish his rating as one of the most elegant and accomplished hurlers of his generation. His achievements are obviously a source of immense pride to the people of Grenagh, who would have been fully aware of his talent from the moment he first donned the club colours as a juvenile.
His reputation quickly spread when he went to Secondary School in St Finbarr's Farrenferris, with whom he won a Dean Ryan Cup medal (Munster Colleges junior hurling medal) in 1998, skippering the team to victory over St Flannan's in the decider.
He was captain again when, with John Gardiner numbered among his colleagues, Farna went under to St Flannan's in the Dr Harty Cup final the following year. Kenny had an excellent championship with Cork this year – excelling at wing-back in the Munster final against Limerick and in the All-Ireland quarter final win over Kilkenny – until he found speedy young Dublin attacker Danny Sutcliffe a bit of a handful in the semi-final.
A little unlucky to be dropped after that, he came on a substitute in both All-Ireland final encounters with Clare, but his year ended on a real high as he tasted county junior hurling and county intermediate football success with his beloved Grenagh.
A superb athlete and an exemplary sportsman, he can be relied upon to give sterling service to the Mid-Cork club for a few more years to come.