Monday 23 April 2018

Martin Breheny: History shows that Kilkenny respond forcefully to predictions of their demise

TJ Reid and his Kilkenny team-mates may be licking their wounds now, but they will regroup and have a real go at reclaiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
TJ Reid and his Kilkenny team-mates may be licking their wounds now, but they will regroup and have a real go at reclaiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A week ago, Richie Hogan was 11/8 favourite to win the Hurler of the Year award - now he is 66/1.

Pádraic Maher was Tipperary's leading contender at 6/1 in the run-up to the All-Ireland final and has since tightened to 5/1.

The big mover is, of course, Séamus Callanan, whose heroics last Sunday have seen his odds slashed from 8/1 to 2/7.

Waterford's Austin Gleeson is on 5/1, with a last chance to advance his claims in Saturday's All-Ireland U-21 final against Galway.

Hogan was one of Kilkenny's better players on Sunday, but as always happens when a player delivers something special in an All-Ireland final - as Callanan did - his stock soars to stratospheric levels.


Whatever the pre-final odds, Callanan had already made a solid case after a very good three-game Munster championship before finding Galway's Daithi Burke a sticky opponent in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Callanan's brilliance last Sunday almost certainly ensured that the Hurler of the Year award will go his way, while Hogan will be lucky to make the top three nominees.

That raises a broader and, in many ways, a more interesting point. All-Ireland winners are immediately seen as a superior force to everyone else, which is fair enough, since the aim of the top contenders is to land the big prize.

Harsh or otherwise, everything else is deemed a failure. Tipperary now stand as hurling's No 1 force, deservedly so after beating Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and Kilkenny in the championship. But are they that far ahead of the rest?

The reaction to Tipperary's triumph, highlighted by their last-quarter demolition of Kilkenny last Sunday, is interesting. Suddenly there's talk of a new Tipp empire, although in fairness to Michael Ryan, his management team and the squad, it's not coming from inside the camp. However, it's thriving outside.

By the time the second wave of analysis comes next weekend, Tipperary will be portrayed as well ahead of everybody else and poised to dominate for the next few seasons. Kilkenny will be depicted as a spent force, complete with reasons why they won't be back for quite some time.

It was the same at the end of 2005, when Cork completed an All-Ireland double. They were portrayed as a group well ahead of everyone else in just about every facet, particularly preparation and tactics. Meanwhile, Kilkenny were supposed to be losing ground.

Eleven years on, Kilkenny have won eight more All-Irelands while Cork are still awaiting their next title.

In 2010, Tipperary's All-Ireland win over Kilkenny was supposed to herald a changing of the guard, with Liam MacCarthy steaming to Thurles every year.

Pádraic Maher mentioned it on Monday, wisely reminding younger colleagues that an All-Ireland success brings no guarantee for the future.

"We probably took it (2010) all for granted. Not only the players but everyone in Tipperary expected, 'This is it now, one after the other.' But it's not that easy," he said.

It was an intelligent assessment from a man who experienced all the frustrations attached to having to wait six years for his next medal.

In 2013, Clare's young buccaneers were flagged as the new poster boys, a squad with a new system that would power them to several more All-Ireland titles.

Three seasons on, they haven't won a single game in Munster and beaten only one of the top eight counties on the 'back door' route.


Kilkenny have been the only county who actually built on All-Ireland success.

And in seasons where they didn't win, the response the following year was driven by a relentless zeal to succeed again.

Those who are now predicting that Kilkenny is heading for decline clearly ignore the lessons of history. They are making their claim on the basis that Kilkenny's underage supply lines haven't been as productive as heretofore.

Only time will tell whether that's actually the case, but those who see last Sunday's defeat as the certain end of the most remarkable era in hurling history would need a lot more than solid evidence than that.

After all, 25 minutes of under-performing by a squad that won eight of the last 11 All-Ireland finals can scarcely be taken as a pointer of what's to come. Many people made that judgement before, only to discover how ridiculous it was - usually quite quickly too.

Irish Independent

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