Ryall's seal of approval
Supersub's show personifies what makes Cats tick
YOU'RE James Ryall, Kilkenny hurler, aged 29. You have been on the senior panel for eight seasons. You were a regular on the starting 15 in 2003/04/05/06, but not since.
In fact, you haven't got any championship action since Saturday, July 28, 2007 when you came on as a sub in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway.
You're a versatile sort who has played in the full-back and half-back lines, mainly on the wings. You have been a long time on the bench, so you look around the defence and wonder: who could I displace? There's no obvious contender. You look around the subs -- its not exactly uncompetitive either.
Sitting alongside is seven-times All-Ireland senior medal-winner Michael Kavanagh, who has been around since 1998. Kavanagh didn't miss a championship game for the past three seasons and was outstanding in the final against Tipperary last year, but hasn't featured this summer.
Then there's Paddy Hogan, an improving newcomer; Sean Cummins, who has four All-Ireland medals; and Canice Hickey, who has three. You have six medals, but in terms of advancing your chances of getting on the team, all that matters is how you're going in training. You're doing well, but so is everybody else.
John Tennyson's injury increases your prospects of seeing action, but you could still spend the rest of the season on the bench. And then it happens. Centre-back Brian Hogan goes down with a shoulder injury 15 minutes into the All-Ireland semi-final. You're beckoned from the stand.
Will Jackie Tyrrell, who has more experience than you at centre-back, be switched out and you slotted in at No 4. No? You're headed for the centre, new territory to you at this level.
Three years and 11 days after you last played championship, you're back at the sharp end. The sides are level. You'd better be ready. This is what you kept working all along. You must get it right. Who knows -- the five-in-a-row could depend on it.
Ryall's contribution to the overwhelming win over Cork was as good an indicator as anything else as to what maintains the current Kilkenny set-up as the remarkable phenomenon that it is. Frankly, it looked as if he had been the regular No 6 for years.
He survived the transformation of the post 2004/05 years to retain his place on the 2006 team that ended Cork's three-in-a-row bid, yet it guaranteed nothing in 2007.
Still, he plugged on and maintained his standards at such a high level that after three years on the championship bench he was ready to slot seamlessly into an unfamiliar position. Of course, if you're marking the likes of Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power, Eddie Brennan and Co in training all the time, the chances are that you will be able to cope with most challenges.
However, the fact that Kilkenny players are prepared to sit on the bench for so long, patiently waiting for their chance, contrasts with what happens in many other counties, where unused subs tend to get restless, especially if they have been first choices for a lengthy period.
Granted, the bench offers a better environment in Kilkenny, who have established a near-permanent arrangement with All-Ireland titles and the ancillary benefits that go with them. If you put in the work in Kilkenny you will see an awful lot of Croke Park, a reward which is not universally spread. It makes the effort that bit easier.
Nevertheless, there's a culture in Kilkenny -- driven by Brian Cody -- which doesn't exist everywhere. It's based on regarding membership of the squad -- wearing any number up to 30 -- as a real privilege, as opposed to a perceived right which a player's talents bestows on him.
What's more, anybody on the panel has to ensure he stays there and the only way to do that is to deliver at every opportunity.
For some, that involves being ready when called on in a big game, even if you haven't played at that level for over three years.
That was Ryall's experience last Sunday and he wasn't found wanting. Ultimately, it's an attitude which is every bit as important as some of the more conspicuous aspects of Kilkenny's unprecedented success story.
Two legs aren't better than one
FORMER GAA president Sean Kelly has proposed running the provincial football championships as separate entities from the All-Ireland series. He wants the All-Ireland to run on an open-draw basis, with the first (and possibly the second) rounds being played on a home-and-away basis.
Problem is, how do you maintain interest in games which are effectively over after the first leg?
Kerry beat Tipperary by 12 points in Thurles this year, so where would be the point of a return leg in Killarney? And what chance would Armagh have had of pulling back 12 points on Monaghan?
Soccer is suited to two-leg games, whereas Gaelic games are not. Also, it's unlikely there would be much interest in provincial championships if they weren't linked to the All-Ireland. Besides, haven't we already got them? They're called the O'Byrne Cup, McKenna Cup, McGrath Cup and FBD League.