Kilkenny paying no heed to treble talk
IT'S the phrase they hate to utter, the subject they strive to avoid and the state of mind they dare not entertain but Kilkenny hurlers know that it's the all-consuming topic among their supporters.
All around the county and indeed anywhere else Kilkenny people congregate, the talk is of the three-in-a-row and whether Brian Cody can led his team into a very exclusive club in Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final. It's all of 91 years (1913) since Kilkenny, represented by Mooncoin, completed their one - and only - three-in-a-row when a team captained by Dick 'Drug' Walsh beat Tipperary (Toomevara) by 2-4 to 1-2.
Kilkenny have won the double on seven occasions but have failed to land another treble, which will be a mighty incentive next Sunday. All the more so since Cork were the last county to win the three-in-a-row back in 1976-77-78.
Of course, the prospect of wrecking Kilkenny's grand plan presents Cork with a powerful motivation too so it's not surprising that Cody would prefer to see a high-powered unit of Leeside spies lurking around Nowlan Park than hear any mention of the three-in-a-row.
Still, he knows it's a subject that can't be avoided but judging from the standard response emanating from the camp, it suggests that they formulated a clear policy on how to deflect attention from speculation on the treble. Kilkenny's attempt to play down the huge historical significance of Sunday's game is understandable as they don't want it to in any way effect the team's mindset.
Cody even has doubts if it's a major topic around Kilkenny, although that's more likely to be an aspiration than a reality.
"I don't think there's any massive talk about it, or if there is, I don't hear it. The thing about the three-in-a-row is this: it's only an issue if we win the game. If we lose, it doesn't arise. It's as stark as that. We see it as another All-Ireland final which is there to be won and the only focus is to put every detail in place to give ourselves the best possible opportunity. The three-in-a-row doesn't come into it."
That's the line also trodden by his players as they manoeuvred themselves skilfully to avoid over-emphasis on the possible treble.
"We don't even think about it. It's an All-Ireland final and there are enough things to get right without even thinking about whether it's a first or a third," said JJ Delaney.
"It brings on no extra pressure whatsoever because we ignore it. Maybe we would think about it if we won but in the run-up to the game, it doesn't figure anywhere with us because we can't let it," said Derek Lyng.
"We see it for what it is, an All-Ireland final against Cork. This is where every player wants to be at this time of year. We would be far more concerned with getting our own game right rather than thinking about the three-in-a-row. It's not an issue with us," said Henry Shefflin.
While Kilkenny are no doubt sincere about their determination to ignore the treble hype, there is a genuine fear in the county that it will act as a powerful motivating agent for Cork. That guarantees nothing, of course, as Kilkenny discovered in 1978 when they attempted to stop Cork's three-in-a-row march.
They failed as Cork won by four points on a day which Cody remembers with no affection as he found himself a mis-placed soul at full-forward. He could never have envisaged that 26 years later, he would be returning to Croke Park in charge of a team that has the three-in-a-row in its sights but he still refuses to allow it enter his consciousness.
"Whether it's a first or a third final, the approach has to be the same.
"You try to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together as best you can and hope they will hold tight on match day. Every year is different so what happened last year or in 2002 is completely irrelevant this year. We're going into this final as if it were our first."
His players are espousing a similar line, conscious no doubt that if they allow their thought to wander in the direction of three-in-a-row territory, it could prompt the gods to mock them. They could never forgive themselves for that as they stand on the verge of a very rare achievement.
For while they are anxious to downplay the significance of Sunday's clash, they are aware that if they win, they will have succeeded in a quest which beat many of Kilkenny's great heroes over the years.
THE TREBLE SHOOTERS
ONLY three counties have won the All-Ireland SH treble. Cork achieved it four times, Tipperary twice and Kilkenny once. Only Cork have won the four-in-a-row (1941-42-43-44). Three in a row details are as follows:
4 Cork (1892-93-94; 1941-42-43; 1952-53-54; 1976-77-78)
2 Tipperary (1898-99-1900; 1949-50-51)
1 Kilkenny (1911-12-13)