Thursday 27 October 2016

Patched-up Cats defy logic with savage hunger

Worn-down Galway find it impossible to tie down a Kilkenny team driven by sheer bloody mindedness

Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30

Kilkenny players celebrate as team captain Joey Holden lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup
Kilkenny players celebrate as team captain Joey Holden lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup

Brian Cody smiles a smile that tells you Galway weren't so much trying to win a game here as pull down a social structure.

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What does it say about the rest of hurling when Kilkenny can do this? A dressing-room emptied of gods last winter and one, in which, a retinue of key men seemed all but held together by baling twine yesterday has possession of the Cup again. How?

By the men who occupy it choosing to empty their chests in a second-half far too frenzied to have nuance, pattern, or - come to think of it - coherent hurling.

It's what Kilkenny do better than any team that's ever drawn breath on a GAA field. They spit out crises like loose teeth.

They keep working.

Galway exhausted themselves trying to impose some kind of physical charter on a team that, historically, chooses to do the muscle-flexing. And they found the champions just staring implacably back at them like smirky corner boys invited to a calisthenics class. Did we really believe a Brian Cody team would bend the knee?


The higher the flames rose, the more tranquil they became. Thunderous physicality is no great inconvenience to the modern Kilkenny, even when half of them are medically unsound.It's their natural setting. And so, at this heat and with James Owens's lightness of policing, everything suddenly began unfolding on their terms.

In the end, Galway were left threshing and floundering in an invisible haze, worn down by the mounting futility of their cause.

And afterwards, Cody's press-conference was concluded in around the time it takes to sing the national anthem. He has now won this gig 11 times in 17 seasons and the media is struggling to summon interesting questions.

Yet, this was something. How can a ransacked team possibly stand top of the mountain again?

He smiles. Whatever the secret is, it will go with him to the grave. But yes, he agrees, it's been a "tough year".

He name-checks the patients, Jackie Tyrrell (broken foot) "fought like a dog to get back"; Richie Power (chronic knee injury) "just got some hurling into him since the semi-final"; Richie Hogan (pulled quad muscle) "It was completely touch and go whether he'd be able to play"; Eoin Larkin (broken thumb) "took it out of a cast on Wednesday" and Michael Fennelly (long-term back injury) "well chronicled" and you find yourself wondering just what the rest of hurling sees in the mirror this morning.

Surely a dressing-room already denied the comforting voices of Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and Taggy Fogarty could not survive such mishaps.

"T'was hard-earned" agrees Cody, still less impressed than us at the implausibility of what we'd seen.

You sense it's not out of greed that he wants to win everything, just a simple belief that it is the duty of every Kilkenny team to play harder than their opponents. Yesterday, that represented quite a challenge.

They met it.

Michael Fennelly offers an insight into the small miracle they've just pulled.

His back is like a bridge they've stopped heavy goods vehicles crossing.

It's structurally unsound.

"I have not trained a whole lot so the last two weeks have been great, I got a bit of training under my belt, managed to get some sessions in which was unusual," he says matter-of-factly.

"Once you are mentally right that will bring you a long way through it. When you are mentally solid you can go places where no-one else can go."

The back is, he acknowledges, "still" an issue.

"It is always there and you are just hoping that it does not set off again," he shrugs.

"You just have to get on with it and whatever happens, happens. It is just normally when I bend down or I get in a certain position it sets off and then I am in trouble.

"I feel good, but I had osteo pubis, maybe that is coming from the back as well. That is healing now and I got a few injections as well so it is settling a small bit.

"Look, you would wonder how we do it every year and come back with the same hunger, but I see it in relation to myself. I want to get on that team, get the number 8 or 9 jersey and if you are driving towards that target, the games will look after themselves."

Richie Power tells us of the five keyhole surgeries he's had on his knee.

He got back training two weeks ago. His most recent game? Five months ago for the club against James Stephens. Since then, the gym has been his second home.

It all seems scarcely credible.

I mean, come on, Tyrrell's injury propelled Shane Prendergast into the senior championship for the first time at the age of 29. He looked to the manor born. Inexplicable.


So what could Galway do? The sheer bloody-mindedness with which Kilkenny protect what they hold makes them virtually impossible to tie down. You can hurl, as Anthony Cunningham's men did, with everything that exists in you and, yet, Kilkenny will somehow find the means to keep you on a rein.

That's essentially what they did yesterday. They saw out Galway's fury, then kicked for home. And they did it despite a multiple of reasons why they shouldn't have been able to.

"To be honest, the players took it over," Power revealed after when asked if, maybe, Cody met them with forked lightning at half-time. "We took it over ourselves. A few guys spoke, Jackie in particular spoke really, really well. We just threw the gauntlet down."

And so all the good things that Galway felt about themselves with that three point half-time lead melted away like sleet off a warm car bonnet.

Within eight minutes of the resumption the teams were level and, frankly, it did not feel like any kind of parity. Because Kilkenny were already just pushing for home now.

Midway through the half, Joe Canning was wrestling on the ground with Joey Holden and, somehow, you just knew that Galway's attention was being drawn into the wrong places.

"Brian Cody is a big factor in this, but the players are just unbelievably motivated to keep winning," said Larkin when it was over.

"There's a good few young lads after coming in there to freshen things up and, by God, they came of age today. We hadn't played well in the first-half and we knew ourselves we had to up it. In fairness at half-time, everybody, subs and all, the whole panel, we all rode in behind each other."

They were ominous words in what they declared about the way Kilkenny see themselves. They've just won an All-Ireland off their knees.

It's still a stripey world. And it may be for some time.

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