Saturday 24 March 2018

Forget April setback - black and amber time starts today

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

It's never good to lose a game by a big margin but it can happen to the very best. The higher up you go, the less likely you are to be hit by a thumping defeat but you're still not immune from it.

It can even happen to Kilkenny, the most reliable outfit in Irish sport. And it did happen to them in the League semi-final in April.

Suddenly, they were under intense scrutiny. Was this the start of a decline? Were they out-manoeuvred by new methods? Were they just a 'functional' team, which had exploited opposition mediocrity over the years?

None of those questions arose prior to the Clare game but that's the nature of sport. What happens last tends to set the agenda, even if history tells us that the longer haul is a far more reliable guide.

It's certainly most unusual for Kilkenny to concede 4-22 - as they did against Clare - so what went wrong? Actually a few things, things we don't expect to afflict Cody's crew.

Full-back Joey Holden took criticism for allowing Clare so many openings close to goal. He was an easy target, while the real issue was why the corner-backs drifted so far away from him.

Granted, Clare's corner-forwards were operating quite some way out but normally Kilkenny would hold their defensive alignment, irrespective of what the opposition did.

This time, their corner-backs were lured out of position, often leaving Holden one-on-one with John Conlon.

Once that happened, Kilkenny had to ensure that the supply lines were cut, but - most uncharacteristically - they allowed Clare time and space around midfield, from where an aerial war was launched.

You don't win many games if you concede 4-22 but it won't happen to Kilkenny again. And while all the focus was on that side of their performance, the fact that they scored 2-19 tended to be overlooked.

It's a match-winning score on many days so there wasn't a whole lot wrong with that side of Kilkenny's game.

Still, Dublin will have studied how Clare found it so easy to score goals so there's a temptation to have a similar go. The difference this time is that Kilkenny will hold their defensive shape much better.

And we can expect far more industry further out. In fact, it will be very much back to basics by Kilkenny.

Of course, that doesn't mean they will steamroll through Dublin.

Dublin have been quite solid this year, certainly more so than last year, when playing Liam Rushe at centre-forward in the Leinster Championship backfired.

Rushe is well capable of playing up front but is more urgently needed in defence, where he brings real stability to the half-back area.

The attack did well too against Wexford a few weeks ago, even if the quality of defending left a lot to be desired.

Dublin will test Kilkenny with direct running, hoping to create an air of uncertainty among a defence that had its confidence hit by the League semi-final wipe-out.


Kilkenny's cause will be greatly helped by the return of Paul Murphy, while Cillian Buckley is more effective at wing-back than midfield.

In a strange way, the defeat by Clare might actually work in Kilkenny's favour.

Taking things for granted has never been their style but they would be the first to acknowledge that they weren't quite right against Clare.

It was a bit like the 2012 Leinster final against Galway, which they lost by ten points. And we all know what happened after that!

So I wouldn't read too much into the League semi-final, even if the result left all Kilkenny's rivals with a pep in their step, especially when a debate was cranked up as to whether Cody's crew were merely a 'functional' team.

It's as simple as this: if you don't function, you don't win. And all you have to do is look at Kilkenny's record to know how good they have been. Ultimately, that's what matters.

I certainly expect them to work their way through this evening's test. It will stretch them but they'll survive it.

Irish Independent

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