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Delaney injury to inspire Cats

HEARTBROKEN Kilkenny defender JJ Delaney will delay his cruciate knee surgery until after the All-Ireland hurling final so that he can stand alongside and support his team mates in those crucial minutes before they go into battle against Cork.

While management and teammates alike played down the notion, Delaney's terrible training ground accident last Friday - just 16 days before the big day - has given the Cats' fresh motivation.

There is no doubt they will now be going all out to win for their absent pivotal teammate who admitted that his worst hours are yet to come.

Probably

"I'm not the first player to get an injury, I just have to get on with it but it probably won't hit me until I wake up on Sunday morning (of the All-Ireland final) and I won't be getting my gear ready or anything like that," Delaney admitted.

"There was only a couple of minutes left in the (training) game and someone took a shot. I went to the right to try and stop the ball, my left leg stayed in the ground and then I heard a click and I just went over.

"When you hear a click and the pain comes on in five or six minutes, you know there is something going to be wrong with you. I had a scan on Saturday morning and it confirmed my worst fears."

Waterford surgeon Tadhg O'Sullivan, who coached Delaney for several years when he was part of a rampant WIT team, will be discussing his options with him tomorrow.

But the player is already adamant that he will delay any treatment that would keep him out of action next Sunday week, because he wants to stand alongside his teammates on the biggest day of their year.

Nothing summed up the respect in which Delaney is held in Kilkenny affections than the reaction when he arrived on crutches to watch training on Monday night.

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As he hobbled gingerly down the sideline to find a viewing point, the several hundred Kilkenny supporters present - whose numbers will swell to thousands over the next 10 days - burst into spontaneous applause to acknowledge their wounded hero.

And afterwards Kilkenny manager Brian Cody let down his guard and paid an extraordinary tribute to the 24-year-old Fenians star, describing him as the best back he has ever seen.

"I have never seen a better defender than JJ Delaney, never, ever!" Cody said, admitting he would not be lavishing such praise on his star player if he was playing in the All-Ireland final on Sunday week.

Given the circumstances the Cats' manager felt no need to disguise his admiration and paid Delaney the ultimate tribute.

"He would have been at the very top in any era, any generation, I mean that, very definitely," Cody added.

"He has got everything a player needs to get to the very top."

Delaney, a sales rep, is particularly popular with his teammates, not least because his modest personality has never altered, despite winning multiple team and individual honours at a young age, including three Allstars and the 2003 Hurler of the Year award.

Defence

This is the second year in-a-row that Kilkenny have been disastrously hit in the heart of their defence at a critical stage of their season.

Last summer they lost Noel Hickey for most of the championship when he was diagnosed with a viral heart problem.

When the team was screened later it emerged that Conor Phelan also had a heart valve problem and he had to give up intercounty hurling.

Hickey is once again an integral part of Kilkenny's defence and Phelan subsequently returned to play colleges' hurling this year. Such recoveries, Delaney acknowledged, will console him as he prepares for a six- to eight-month break from the game.


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