Tuesday 20 February 2018

Hard to see how anyone will get close to clinical Kilkenny this summer

Kilkenny hurlers celebrate their 70th Leinster senior title
Kilkenny hurlers celebrate their 70th Leinster senior title

Donny Mahoney

Croke Park on Leinster hurling final day is a different version of itself. The Hill and the upper stands are uninhabited.

Pigeons graze in quiet corners of the pitch. The stadium cannot bellow in the same way it will in August and September. Everyone inside - fans, players, stewards - knows that the stakes are not the same.

Kilkenny were thoroughly deserving winners of their 70th provincial title at headquarters last Sunday. They won as they won most games: their tackling was ferocious, their shooting was heavenly.

TJ Reid spoke afterwards about returning to Dublin 3 in five weeks. The itinerary of a Kilkenny hurling summer is straightforward and well-trodden: trips up the M7 to Dublin for the first Sunday of July, second Sunday of August, first Sunday of September.

Galway supporters were upbeat afterwards. The Tribesmen had turned up ready for the physical onslaught. They had Kilkenny rattled in the third quarter.

But it was the ease at which Kilkenny's forwards could engineer scores - and they were gorgeous scores - that makes it difficult to see how anyone will get close to them this summer.

Beyond Tipperary, no county has had as many opportunities to match themselves against Kilkenny over the last decade as Galway.

Their games remind me of the Yankees-Red Sox 'rivalry' before the tides turned in 2004, when the Sox would fall agonisingly short time after time against the best team in the game.

How much can defeat really teach you?

We had an intriguing text in to the show last Thursday night that read something like this: since you're only going to beat Kilkenny once in the championship, why not make sure it's the All-Ireland final?

I'm inclined to agree. Galway's route to Liam MacCarthy now veers through the quarter-finals and then the Munster champions, but the wild hope still exists.

As for Kilkenny, you can either begrudge them or stand in awe of them. You just can't beat them.

Irish Independent

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