Cyril Farrell: 'Brian Cody doesn't teach lads how to hurl. What he teaches them is how to hurl his way'
Limerick knew what was coming, but even they must have been surprised by the ferocity of what Kilkenny threw at them last Saturday.
It started just before the throw-in, when Richie Leahy horsed into the Limerick midfielders as if to say: 'This isn't the Munster final and ye're not playing Tipperary.'
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
It reminded me of what Galway's Richie Murray, who was only a young lad, did against Kilkenny in the 2001 semi-final. It made a statement that Kilkenny, reigning All-Ireland champions at the time, weren't expecting. Galway won and Brian Cody admitted that he learned a lot from it.
"Somewhere along the line, the standards that we had carefully set together had dropped. Without realising it, we had gone a little soft. That softness didn't take us over in an obvious way but it infiltrated just enough to do damage, It's like rust just beneath the surface; you mightn't be able to spot it, but it's doing damage that will have an effect, probably when you're least expecting it," he wrote in his autobiography.
We can safely say that not once in the last 18 years have Kilkenny been hit by another outbreak of 'softness'. Leahy and Conor Browne put down a marker in the middle of the field even before the game started last Saturday and the rest followed.
People talk about shapes and patterns, plays, ploys and match-ups, and while it sounds good, much of it is pure spoof.
Yes, of course, tactics are used to enhance your own game and undermine the opposition's plans, but they should not be over-emphasised. Cody never has and he's unlikely to start now. You'll hear discussions from time to time on 'what's his secret', but of course it's a not a secret. It's there for everyone to see.
He doesn't teach lads how to hurl because they're obviously up to county standard before they come in. What he teaches them is how to hurl his way.
He talks openly about honesty and genuineness and while that might sound simplistic, it's at the heart of what Kilkenny were and are. Have you ever seen a Kilkenny player stay down after taking a knock? Unless he's injured or badly shaken, he'll bounce back up straight away. It's how they play the game.
And however depleted by injuries Kilkenny may be, you'll never hear Cody mention it. Instead, he'll talk of having 15 players and five subs to work with - and that's all that matters. Someone is missing, so what? There's a replacement. Kilkenny hurling is bigger than any one - or even any five players.
That's the environment in which young players enter the cycle. They know what's expected. In a sense, Cody is able to enjoy his own legacy, which is as it should be, since he accumulated the wealth in the first place.
Rattled Limerick would have known exactly what was coming their way, but they still couldn't deal with it. Now, it must be said that apart from being rattled by having two or three Kilkenny men in their faces nearly every time they got the ball, Limerick's touch in looser play was off for some reason. So was their shooting.
They'll be back, of course. John Kiely hit exactly the right note afterwards, one that suggested he was already beginning to digest the lessons of the day, rather than looking for excuses. He might have complained about not getting a '65 at the end, but he didn't. Yes, it could have saved Limerick, but deep down he knew Kilkenny deserved to win.
It was the same with Galway when they lost to Limerick in last year's final. That, too, was a one-point game on the scoreboard, but not in reality. It's always best to acknowledge when a defeat is deserved.
Davy Fitz made no excuses either after Wexford's defeat by Tipperary, even if it was cruel hard for them to take. They did so much right for so long, but lost their way in the final quarter.
They should have scored a few more goals when they had Tipperary in trouble in the first half, but were let down by a lack of experience. They'll learn and be back. As for Davy's future, he has to continue with them. They have made real progress and the journey isn't over yet.
As for Tipp, their heart can never be questioned again. I can never remember a game where a team had three goals disallowed and still won. Top marks too to Liam Sheedy, who made a brave call to change his full-back line. He did it to counteract Wexford's approach, but he would have been savaged if it backfired.
By the way, don't be surprised if James Barry is back for the final. Kilkenny play a straight-up attacking game with Colin Fennelly in an orthodox full-forward role, so Barry could return.
* * * * *
A final point. Reducing the minor age limit to 17 was a mistake and should be scrapped. Subjecting 16- and 17-year-olds to the demands of high-profile provincial and All-Ireland games is not good for them - either in a sporting or personal context. It brings too much pressure and exposure. If it continues, I fear for the development of minors in the future.