Thursday 14 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Fake views won't faze Kilkenny one bit

History shows predictions of Kilkenny's demise to be ultimate in bad judgement

Kilkenny were being written off after some early setbacks in 2015 but ended up beating Galway in the All-Ireland final. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kilkenny were being written off after some early setbacks in 2015 but ended up beating Galway in the All-Ireland final. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Michael Ryan called it correctly - an early-season Allianz League game that was good to win but which should not be afforded significance beyond its worth.

"It's just a point in time in February so I wouldn't get too excited. The year is but a pup - we're only two games in," said the Tipperary manager after the victory over Waterford last Sunday.

Shortly afterwards, the Tipperary squad rolled out of Walsh Park, thoughts already gearing towards their first home game of the league against Clare on Sunday week.

By then, they would have heard the result from Ennis, where Clare beat Kilkenny by 13 points. The weekend had its main talking point.

Wexford's splendid comeback against Galway was attracting attention too but not to anything like the same degree as Kilkenny's demolition.

Worrying

Coming after the nine-point defeat by Tipperary in last year's All-Ireland final and a first league defeat by Waterford in Nowlan Park since 2004, the Cats' stock had taken a hit. Pundits piled in, talking of how Kilkenny and Brian Cody had wandered into 'worrying times', otherwise known as the early stages of a serious slump.

Bookmakers reacted by stretching their odds to levels not associated with Kilkenny for a very long time. Fancy them for the All-Ireland? You can have 7/2 there. To recover from the bad start and win the league? That's 10/1, out from 5/2 two weeks ago. The word is spreading - Kilkenny are in trouble. And this time, it's different apparently.

Unlike some times past, as in 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011 (league final), 2012 (Leinster final) when Kilkenny faltered in big games, most by wide margins, the new 'word' is that they no longer have the playing resources to stage the type of recoveries which followed previous setbacks.

Like all 'words', it needs to be filtered. Whatever about fake news thriving in Donald Trump's imagination, fake views often prosper spectacularly in sport, especially if presented in strident terms by former players and managers, jostling with each other for notoriety at the media trough.

In those circumstances, it's wise to heed Ryan's "the year is but a pup" line when it comes to assessing Kilkenny. But, then, he is a sensible man, trading in first-hand experience.

In 2015, Kilkenny lost three successive league games to Dublin, Galway and Tipperary, the latter by 12 points. They later survived a relegation play-off, beating Clare by a point after the luck of the draw brought the game to Nowlan Park. If it were in Ennis, Kilkenny would probably have been relegated.

The word was out then too - black-and-amber had stalled. Five months on, the Liam MacCarthy Cup was back in Kilkenny. There's always a tendency to declare that "this time it's different" when a successful team wobbles but if it's to be credible it needs to be based on more than a hunch.

Of course, it's possible that Kilkenny are in decline and won't win an All-Ireland title over the next few years. No team in any sport is immune from a decline, the extent of which can vary.

That applies to Kilkenny, too, but losing by a point to Waterford and a heavy defeat against Clare certainly doesn't prove the case.

Over-inflating the importance of a most recent event - whether it's a very impressive performance or a stinker - remains one of the most common traps for the punditry classes. The latest example of that holds that Kilkenny are sinking fast and that Tipperary are pulling some way ahead of everyone else.

Where's the evidence? Tipperary and Galway have enjoyed one win each in their last two championship clashes, while their league meeting was drawn, all of which suggests there is little between them in head-to-head contests.

The significant difference is that Tipperary do better than Galway against Kilkenny. Indeed, if Galway had snatched a late win against Tipperary last August, there's every chance that Kilkenny would now be All-Ireland champions and under no real scrutiny, even after losing two league games.

Instead, they are under forensic analysis, with much of the focus on whether there's anything left in what has been the deepest tank hurling ever experienced.

Just as it's sensible not to insult the alligator's mother until the river is crossed, it might be wise to reserve judgement on Kilkenny for some time yet.

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