Wednesday 13 December 2017

Delaney believes Kilkenny youth will inspire veterans to return for more

Kilkenny sealed their position as the greatest team in GAA history when they secured their ninth All-Ireland in 13 seasons.
Kilkenny sealed their position as the greatest team in GAA history when they secured their ninth All-Ireland in 13 seasons.
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

KILKENNY were a little later rising from their slumber than most teams on the morning after an All-Ireland final.

Perhaps the knowledge that they had seen off the latest pretender to their throne let them rest easy.

Or maybe it was officially rubber-stamping their position as the greatest team in GAA history when they secured their ninth All-Ireland in 13 seasons, surpassing even Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry side.

It's a marvellous dynasty built on the shoulders of men with little pretensions about them. JJ Delaney stops to chat not a full day after winning his eighth All-Ireland medal.

That puts him in an elite club, but there are large parts of the country where he could pass through unrecognised. And, as with a lot of the other Kilkenny hurlers, you get the impression he wouldn't have it any other way.

Behind him, Kilkenny's newest star Walter Walsh is lapping it up, signing autographs and enjoying the aftermath of a day that saw him write his place in history with a stunning debut performance.

Delaney knows how he feels. He was only in the panel a few short weeks when he was thrown into the Leinster championship against Offaly back in 2002 for his first senior county appearance.

A decade on, he smiles knowingly at the novelty of it all for the Tullogher-Rosbercon youngster and speaks of the responsibility the Kilkenny jersey carries.


"There are a few lads on the panel that got their first medal and you are trying to get them their first medal as much as you are trying to get another one for yourself," he says.

"When we started off there were lads like Peter Barry and DJ (Carey) who were bursting themselves to get us a medal as well.

"You are trying to get it for the panel. The first one is always the sweetest one as well, they'll never forget that. The likes of Wally Walsh, he had a dream debut, Man of the Match, scores 1-3, it's just great for him.

"I wasn't hurling for the league and my first start for Kilkenny was in the championship too. So it was sink or swim. The confidence Walter has at the moment is going to go through the roof and it's great for him."

Like a baggage carousel at an airport, dozens of pairs of eyes are trained on the staircase that leads to the hotel's bedrooms and it's producing Kilkenny's heroes with more regularity now.

A few youngsters armed with pens and paper enthusiastically swamp Jackie Tyrrell. He obliges and pulls in the shyest one of the group, signs her jersey and sends them off into a gleeful hop. Richie Hogan is doing likewise now, too, as the hum builds.

According to Delaney, there won't be too many retirements. He's asked about Noel Hickey's future -- a player who has gradually been forced out of the team -- but Delaney scoffs at that, saying he could feel the Dunamaggin man's breath on his neck this week, before the team was named on Friday night.

"I don't see any reason why he wouldn't continue. He has shown great form over the last few weeks. When they flipped over the team sheet, I was very nervous before it because he had been flying in training and he showed that when he came on," he says.

"Noel is only 31, so I don't see any reason why he wouldn't carry on.


"But everyone has to decide if they want to go back for the full year. Knowing the lads as I do, they will want to give it 100pc if they do come back for another year. They will have to weigh that up themselves."

Brian Cody wouldn't be drawn on his future either, but that he enquired as to Walsh's availability for January's Walsh Cup is perhaps a sign that the wheels have already started turning.

But even on the off-chance of Cody stepping down, he sees a panel in rude health after two U-21s started Sunday's final, which he hopes will help bust the "myth" that Kilkenny are a side in decline.

"It comes back to the ageing thing about the team, that whole myth, the questions were there about our panel and the depth of our panel," says Cody.

"The panel is strong. The panel has always been strong. We were in the U-21 All-Ireland final, we didn't win it but if you can get two or three players off a team any year, you're doing nicely. All we talk about is the present and yesterday's performance, I thought, was an outstanding performance to be honest."

Delaney drifts off into the welcoming arms of the Kilkenny crowd. Eoin Larkin is there too. He had a huge year that included sitting his Leaving Cert and captaining the Cats to another All-Ireland.

Only a man of his standing could get away with that rendition of 'Cody's winning matches' from the Hogan Stand.

They'll fall into a familiar routine this week of visiting clubs and schools while the rest of the country will withdraw and plot their downfall once more. Galway will have given the rest hope and Tipp will regroup under Eamon O'Shea. Cork are on the right road again too.

But once again, it's Kilkenny's day and no one can say they didn't deserve their lie-in.

Irish Independent

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