New Cats on the block
Ex-Kilkenny star Henderson feels 'Class of 2011' have what it takes to outgun Tipperary and regain All-Ireland title, writes Martin Breheny
AS the Kilkenny squad retreated into the eerie silence which settled across the county after last year's All-Ireland final defeat, several of them must have wondered if they would ever get another chance to climb back up on the big stage.
Losing for the first time after 21 consecutive championship wins, which accumulated four All-Ireland titles, was scarcely sufficient reason for Brian Cody to order a complete overhaul, but, at the same time, the 2011 All-Ireland final seemed a very long way off.
Would Kilkenny even qualify? Would the denting of their apparent invincibility generate such a massive psychological jolt that it would leave them vulnerable this year? And, even if didn't, how many alterations would Cody deem necessary to re-energise the camp?
Change comes slowly in successful counties, but it does happen, due to injury and as part of the natural evolution process, so there was never a real likelihood that the Kilkenny 15 which started in last year's All-Ireland final would be back en bloc this year.
Indeed, if Cody had a full hand to deal from, there would probably have been six changes: David Herity for PJ Ryan (goal); Paul Murphy for John Dalton (right corner-back); Brian Hogan for John Tennyson (centre half-back); Michael Rice for James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (midfield or right half-forward); Colin Fennelly for Eddie Brennan (right full-forward) and Richie Hogan for Aidan Fogarty (left full-forward).
Brian Hogan missed last year's final through injury, while Fogarty missed most of this summer with an ankle injury, but returned to the panel last month. However, Richie Hogan has done well so far.
In any event, the Hogans, Fitzpatrick, Tennyson and Fogarty have all played in All-Ireland finals before, leaving Herity, Murphy and Fennelly as the new Cats on the block.
Herity displaces PJ Ryan, who was man of the Match in the 2009 All-Ireland final after one of the best goalkeeping displays seen on the big day for a long time. He did nothing especially wrong last year, but came under pressure from Herity this season.
Ryan, Herity and Colin McGrath shared the goalkeeping duties during the league, but the first two were always likely to be battling it out for the top slot in the championship.
It must have been a close call, but, in the end, it went Herity's way. Formerly a forward with Kilkenny footballers, he has taken his chance, cementing his place with good performances against Dublin in the league final and against Wexford in the Leinster semi-final.
Former Kilkenny star John Henderson said that Herity had been quite busy in all Kilkenny's championship games and had coped extremely well.
"PJ Ryan would be wondering what he did wrong, but when David got his chance, he made it count. He has great reflexes and is very agile. I have been very impressed by him in all three championship games so far," said Henderson.
As a three-time All-Ireland winner at corner-back, Henderson is particularly well qualified to assess Paul Murphy, who has forced his way onto the team at No 2 this summer.
John Dalton was in pole position going into the league final, but was subsequently banned for eight weeks after an investigation into an incident just before half-time. It ruled him out for the opening championship game against Wexford, presenting Murphy with an opening.
"He has to be good to keep out Dalton, whom I thought was one of Kilkenny's better defenders last year. Again, though, it's all about taking your chance when you get it. Play well and you stay on the team and that's what Murphy has done.
"He's strong on the ground and in the air and can play in either the full-back or half-back lines. In my day, a corner-back would die either of exhaustion or shock if he was asked to move out to the half-backs. Murphy can do it quite easily -- but then he's very mobile.
"He was very good against Waterford, in particular," said Henderson.
With a major doubt over Fennelly's fitness after pulling his hamstring, Eddie Brennan could be in line to start his 10th All-Ireland final, although Henderson believes that an alternative is to play 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, with a brief to operate further out.
It will be extremely disappointing for Fennelly if he loses out and while its his first season at this level, Henderson believes his absence would be a significant blow to Kilkenny.
"It's very unfortunate that he finds himself in this position in the run-up to an All-Ireland final. He has been a big addition to the attack this year, but then the pedigree is good.
"Tall and rangy, he's fast onto loose ball and once he gets possession, he has tremendous vision which is a real asset. He's comfortable either in the half-forward of full-forward lines, but then most of the Kilkenny forwards are. He'll be a loss if he can't make it, but Kilkenny are lucky to have lads like Eddie, 'Cha' and others to call on," said Henderson.
As with all Kilkenny supporters, Henderson is hoping that the squad can revisit the peaks which made them such a compelling force during the four-in-a-row run.
"It's going to demand one huge effort. Dublin got right in Tipperary's face in the semi-final and Kilkenny will be aiming for the same, just as they did in the 2006 final where Cork were favourites, but were worn down. If Kilkenny do that, it will be some battle and we'd be hoping that Liam comes back our way again," said Henderson