Friday 28 October 2016

Henry Shefflin: Donal Og broadside made me realise how lucky we were to have such harmony in Kilkenny

Henry Shefflin

Published 01/08/2015 | 02:30

Johnny Glynn celebrates scoring for Galway against Cork at Semple Stadium last weekend
Johnny Glynn celebrates scoring for Galway against Cork at Semple Stadium last weekend

The palpable anger with which Donal Og Cusack spoke in 'The Sunday Game' studio last weekend brought home to me how our experiences as inter-county hurlers have, largely, been poles apart.

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Maybe the most relevant point of intersection between our careers was the summer of '06 when, having survived charges of being hopelessly old-fashioned because of big-game defeats in '04 and '05, Kilkenny came storming through to deny Cork a famous three-in-a-row.

No-one could possibly have foreseen back then that we would win six of the next eight All-Irelands, with Cork not winning one.

As two groups, we were maybe never the closest, but I have respect for Donal Og's views and really enjoy the process of analysing games with him.

Last Sunday's was my first night broadcast since signing up to 'The Sunday Game' and my view was that the Cork players hadn't done themselves justice at Semple Stadium. They just seemed to wave the white flag fairly early, letting Galway walk all over them.

Donal Og didn't disagree with that, but made the point that he felt there were deeper issues in Cork hurling that needed to be brought into the debate.

A screengrab of Donal Og Cusack on The Sunday Game
A screengrab of Donal Og Cusack on The Sunday Game

When he began his tirade, the thing that really struck me was that sense of difference in how we feel about our county boards. Throughout my Kilkenny career, there were two hurling constants in my life, Brian Cody and board chairman Ned Quinn.

Those two people will forever be synonymous with Kilkenny's extraordinary success of the past 15 years, two incredibly steady characters, always working in tandem, supporting one another. It meant we had a ship almost always in settled waters, allowing us to do our talking on the field all the time.

By contrast, the Cork hurlers have known huge upheaval in the same period so, when people see Donal Og and myself as two entirely different characters, I think it's fair to say that a lot of that difference comes from our experiences. It's like life in general. You are shaped by the things and people you come into contact with.

My experience as a Kilkenny hurler was that we always got what we needed, so there was never a sense of being in conflict with the county board. Cork didn't have that kind of harmony and Donal Og was speaking from that perspective on Sunday night.

I certainly couldn't imagine a former Kilkenny hurler referring to any hurling people in the county as "stooges", but I bear none of the scars that have clearly shaped Donal Og's view of GAA matters in Cork.

Maybe people took issue with that language and there's definitely a sense that a lot of the divisions in Cork during the strikes have never healed.

No question, the table he produced on Sunday night makes bad reading for those in charge; the lack of success at underage level in Cork compared to Limerick, Waterford and Clare is a genuine cause for concern.

In all three of these counties it has be noted that a number of recent ex-players have made a major contribution to that success. This has not happened in Cork due in the main to all the upheaval in recent years.

Brian Cody, Kilkenny manager
Brian Cody, Kilkenny manager

But I think sometimes you can read too much into underage success or otherwise. Kerry football hasn't exactly been churning out All-Ireland winning minor or U-21 teams, yet they're still at the cutting edge of senior business.

And Martin Breheny had an interesting piece in this newspaper on Wednesday, pointing out how little senior success Galway hurling has managed to mine from unprecedented underage achievement.

My view is that, if you have a decent team to start with, you only need one or two players breaking in each year.

Kilkenny had just a single under-21 player in the senior panel last year, so this impression of a constant conveyor belt delivering fresh, match-ready talent into Cody's care is actually an illusion.

What you do have in Kilkenny is an absolute uniformity of purpose. Be it the senior team-management, the county board or the general hurling public, there's a sense of everybody pulling in the same direction. This is not happening in Cork.

The thing that struck me on Sunday was how, so quickly, the whole picture around Cork becomes volatile again.

It seemed to me that everybody was really positive about them after the qualifier defeat of Clare.

I saw enough aggression and work-ethic in their performance that evening to believe that they would kick on last weekend and beat Galway.

There is harmony in Kilkenny hurling
There is harmony in Kilkenny hurling

But those qualities were missing on Sunday.

It seems to me that there's plenty of ability in the current Cork team, but they just don't show that on a consistent basis. The edge they had the previous two days against Wexford and Clare just seemed absent from the moment Johnny Glynn waltzed through for that opening Galway goal after 55 seconds.

The big criticism of this Cork team is that they don't seem to meet every game with the same, unequivocal focus, and that Glynn goal pretty much encapsulated that. You could see almost instantly that Cork weren't quite battle-ready.

I've heard a lot of people say that Glynn should have been 'taken out', but you don't need to take a player out in that situation. You just need to be strong, get your body in the way, at the very least make your presence felt.

In fairness to Glynn, it was a brilliant piece of skill, which a lot of people seem to have forgotten. But the goal set a tone for the day. It showed us that Glynn was in a zone that the Cork defenders simply weren't.

But, remember, the charges now being levelled at Cork are the very same ones that have been levelled at Galway for years.

Now, suddenly, Anthony Cunningham's men are portrayed as the best thing since sliced pan.

But if they don't now take the next step against Tipperary tomorrow fortnight, will they be back to square one again?

To be fair, Galway put a string of performances together in 2012 and came very close to an All-Ireland. They just haven't followed it up since, so people might be wise to suspend judgment.

My suspicion is that Cork aren't as bad as they've been depicted since last Sunday just as Galway, most probably, aren't quite as good.

Only one team wins the All-Ireland any year. For everyone else the season, ultimately, must end in disappointment.

The important thing is you bank the experience and use it to make you grow.

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