Croker choker exposes myth of Cats' invincibility
Published 03/05/2011 | 05:00
Only a complete idiot would write off Kilkenny after last Sunday's Allianz Hurling League final defeat.
A team that has bestrode the national hurling scene like a colossus for so long is not suddenly going to collapse and disappear and, after the manner of their capitulation, a serious back-lash can be expected this summer.
The Cats clearly limped into the league final with the equivalent of thorns in two of their paws and when they were reduced to 14 men and then lost JJ Delaney to injury, they were on a hiding to nothing.
Expecting them to regain much of their power when their superstars return is an understandable reaction. But hurling, individually and collectively, is a sport that depends wholly on touch, rhythm and pace.
Therefore, the assumption that Kilkenny will suddenly find their mojo once their big names return is a very large one.
Retirements and injuries have clearly weakened them but Anthony Daly's gutsy Dubs, like Tipperary last September, busted more than a few myths about this Kilkenny team and, by exposing them, will have given new hope to other counties that they can do the same.
BUSTED: Kilkenny's Invincibility
After an astonishing run of four All-Irelands in a row, Tipperary stole Kilkenny's senior crown last autumn, and Croke Park -- which was for so long a fortress for the Noresiders -- has suddenly become something of a graveyard.
Since last September, hurlers from Kilkenny -- whether club or county teams -- have contested six finals in Croke Park and won only one of them.
Ballymartle (Cork) beat Dicksboro in the AIB All-Ireland intermediate final in February and another Cork team, Meelin, beat John Lockes in the junior equivalent.
On St Patrick's day O'Loughlin Gaels got a serious trimming by Clarinbridge in the senior club All-Ireland final.
The only Kilkenny side to win a final at Croke Park in the last eight months were their U-18s, who beat Clare in last year's All-Ireland minor final.
Dublin's victory on Sunday was their second over Kilkenny in a final this year, repeating their Walsh Cup victory, and they also drew with them in their regular league game.
Given their underage successes these Dubs are not intimidated by the sight of black and amber jerseys and other teams, who previously suffered the 'fear factor' when facing Kilkenny, will also take confidence from Dublin's victory.
BUSTED: Kilkenny's discipline
Discipline has always been a hallmark of Brian Cody's team.
Some have argued that they often operate 'on the edge' but it has equally been their trademark that when they dish it out, they take whatever comes back at them without a blink or complaint.
Indiscipline of any kind is rare among the aristocrats of hurling because skill is so highly prized and appreciated in Kilkenny. That's why there was such shock at John Dalton's actions just before half-time.
Richie Hogan could also have been sent off and Eoin Larkin deserved to go.
Brian Cody clearly hadn't seen the replay when he commented afterwards that Larkin's retaliation was "a pushing motion" but he was right in one thing: like Dalton's action, it was very uncharacteristic of the man and his team.
Not only did it leave the Cats a man short but it also saw the free that Larkin had just won reversed -- the sort of stupidity that will have enraged their manager.
When players are being badly beaten, they often lash out in pure frustration but even when they're chasing a lead, Kilkenny usually don't stoop, so why now?
Did their loss of discipline indicate a growing loss of confidence within the whole team?
BUSTED: Kilkenny's bench
When the Cats were in their four-in-a-row prime it was a popular bar-stool occupation to declare that their substitutes were "the second best team in Ireland".
Such hubris is extremely rare around Kilkenny itself and certainly never expressed or tolerated by their management or team.
Outsiders have always envied Kilkenny's strength in depth, which was often their trump card in a crisis. They faced just such a crisis this year, limping into the league final on one wing due to the injury absences of Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, John Tennyson, Richie Power, Michael Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty.
Few counties would survive that yet people still expect Kilkenny to have a bench capable of seamlessly replacing them.
Yet they didn't even use their full subs quota (just three) and the first (veteran defender Michael Kavanagh) wasn't called upon until the 56th minute.
Not using more substitutes, and earlier, indicates the lack of depth left on their bench.
BUSTED: Kilkenny's physicality
Under Cody, the Cats are usually fiercely physical, not just in their ability to win aerial ball but to hand out and take the big hits.
That's reckoned to come from their robust in-house training games, where Cody holds the whistle but rarely blows it.
Whenever Kilkenny players are hit they usually bounce off the ground straight back onto their feet and get on with it. Yet it was Dublin, epitomised by Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer, who were the rubber balls this time.
The Sky Blues have clearly stepped up their strength training, as shown by their total aerial dominance.
And how many times did we see Dublin players dancing along the sidelines, surviving hefty shoulders to retain possession?
It was also clear that Anthony Daly had Dublin prepared mentally to take the hits and carry on regardless, not least in the way he shoved the recovering Conor McCormack towards the dressing room at half-time!
BUSTED: Kilkenny's accuracy
Whenever Henry Shefflin or Richie Power stands over a free you can, usually, chalk it down before they've even lifted the sliothar, irrespective of the weather conditions.
In their absence, Kilkenny used three other free-takers -- TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and Paddy Hogan -- and not one was metronomic.
Apart from 12 wides, the Cats shot only 1-1 from play on Sunday and Eddie Brennan's goal was the only score from a forward. Their starting attack was worryingly small in stature and inexperienced. Matthew Ruth, usually a corner-forward, was given the tough task of filling in their vacuum at centre-forward.
Without Michael Fennelly they struggled badly in midfield which didn't help their attack.
But without Shefflin, Power and Fogarty their forwards struggled to find space or win ball and, even allowing for Dublin being able to play an extra defender, particularly failed to find Colin Fennelly, one of their best forwards all year.
One rangy player with a proven ability to win primary possession and vary the attacking angles is Martin Comerford, who hasn't been seen since his club exploits with O'Loughlin Gaels. Maybe it's time to send out the call to 'Gorta'.
Meanwhile, Dublin defender Joey Boland is a major doubt for the newly crowned league champions' Leinster championship opener against Offaly on May 29 after it was confirmed that the centre-back had suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Boland was stretchered off after 44 minutes and a visit to the Mater Hospital revealed that he had not broken a collarbone as had been initially thought. The Na Fianna clubman had only recovered from a metatarsal injury.
Alan McCrabbe came through his first start since New Year's Day unscathed, while David Treacy also made his first appearance of the year following cruciate ligament surgery.
Liam Rushe showed no ill-effects after recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered in a training camp in Portugal and Maurice O'Brien (ankle) also returned to action.