Tuesday 12 December 2017

The old dogs for the hard road as Kingdom and Kilkenny reign supreme

Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice and Kilkenny captain Lester Ryan
Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice and Kilkenny captain Lester Ryan
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Rewind twelve months and the writing was on the wall for the most successful counties in football and hurling. This year the Cats and the Kingdom proved emphatically that form is temporary but class is permanent.

Last September it was predicted that Davy Fitzgerald's Clare would lead a new revolution in hurling, while the Dublin juggernaut showed few signs of slowing down amid talk of an oncoming domination.

The reality was somewhat different. The Banner struggled to reach the same heights of 2013 and were sent packing by Wexford in one of the games of the summer in the qualifiers, with the final pairing of Kilkenny and Tipp having more than a familiar ring to it. The Dubs meanwhile failed with the first stern test of their credentials by a well-drilled Donegal outfit and domination talk has been parked for the time being.

2014 didn't exactly go to script, unless you were a member of the Kilkenny and Kerry set-ups. With 72 All-Irelands between them, history was on their side, if not perhaps the public backing.

Certainly Kerry's early season form seemed to cement the notion that the losses of Colm Cooper and Tomas Ó Sé were too great for a team in transition. Following their 10 point hammering to near neighbours Cork in the final round of  the National League, their odds for Sam Maguire drifted to 16/1 with some bookmakers.

The Kerry team celebrate their All-Ireland victory over Donegal

The Rebels were to soon find out the hard way the generosity of such odds when the Kingdom dismantled Brian Cuthbert's side in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. There were star performers all over the pitch, with James O'Donoghue giving a master class in forward play. From there they never looked back.

The Cats were never considered as far away from September glory as Kerry, but with some of their stalwarts advancing in years and Clare's emergence of talent, many felt they would fall short.

Throw in the continued improvement of Cork under Jimmy-Barry Murphy and Limerick's quest for redemption, then the threats were real and  plentiful.

As is Cody's mantra, the Leinster side worried little about the opposition and concentrated on their own game. The National League saw a great deal of tinkering, which continued throughout the championship. The three changes for the replay couldn't have worked any better.

Kieran Joyce was man-of-the-match, Padraig Walsh was outstanding at wing-back and John Power bagged 1-1 from corner forward. Yet again the big calls paid rich dividends.

Kilkenny players celebrate with the McCarthy Cup after their All-Ireland final replay victory over Tipperary at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Eamon Fitzmaurice too deserves enormous credit for leading the Munster champions to the their first Sam Maguire in five years.

Under pressure after stumbling to victory over Clare in their opener, he gave Declan O'Sullivan a deeper role against Cork and named Peter Crowley, David Moran and Kieran Donaghy among the substitutes. The trio would make their presence felt during the business end of the season.

Brian Cody's all conquering side are 9/4 favourites in the 2015 race for Liam McCarthy, while Kerry sit just behind Dublin in the eyes of the bookmakers. Their price of 4/1 is far better value than Dublin's 5/4 odds..

With possible retirements, new players blooded in the league and early season championship form all to be taken into account, the expectations of the All-Ireland contenders is likely to rise and fall repeatedly as the year unfolds.

Few will raise eyebrows if these two sides are still competing for the ultimate prize in 12 months' time.

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