IF Kilkenny's fitness proves the deciding factor in Sunday's Guinness All-Ireland Hurling final, Corkman Mick O'Flynn will be hailed a hero in the county.
O'Flynn was among Ireland's premier athletes over a period of more than 12 years, winning six national triple jump titles between 1968 and '80 and a further gold in the long jump. His longest leap measured at 14.81 metres which is in excess of 49 feet.
During that time Mick competed internationally for Ireland on a number of occasions, including the European Cup.
The Leevale clubman then moved to Kilkenny to take up a teaching post and continued to compete himself, while also helping coach Bill Oakes to win four national triple jump titles.
When the late Ollie Walsh became manager of the Kilkenny team, he recognised the need to have a man in charge of the fitness programme who would have first hand knowledge of how to get the best out of the players.
O'Flynn was drafted in back in 1991 and, apart from a short break, has been there ever since, his talents recognised by Nicky Brennan and again when Kevin Fennelly took over the reins of management.
Kilkenny lost narrowly to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final of 1991, but O'Flynn had his charges in the peak of fitness for '92 and watched with mixed emotions as they defeated his native Cork in the final.
Last winter O'Flynn reckoned that perhaps the panel needed something more strenuous to give them the base for a long and arduous summer of championship hurling.
So last January he took them to Gowran Park where he ran them up and down the hills twice or three times a week. That went on for a couple of months, often doing a number of intervals of 1,000 metres, before he brought them to the new tartan track in Kilkenny where he honed their speed.
O'FLYNN is now confident that the Kilkenny team are coming to their peak of fitness. ``We have only had the one competitive match since the Leinster final which took place ten weeks ago, but you can sense their hunger for this final,'' he said.
``The hard work is over and now it's just a question of keeping them fresh and avoiding any foolish injuries.''
Every member of this Kilkenny side will hope to have their name added to the list of hurling legends which litter the county's history.
One such former great was christened Lorenzo Ignatius Meagher, but to every hurling follower worthy of the name, he will be remembered as Lory Meagher, the man who they said could talk to a sliotar and who was often dubbed the prince of hurlers.
The deeds of Mick Mackey and Christy Ring are folklore. So are those of Nicky Rackard, down to Eddie Keher of more recent times, but it is widely said that Meagher, on his day, was the finest all-rounder the game has ever seen.
MEAGHER won three All-Ireland medals and his many deeds are recalled in the wonderful Heritage Centre which commemorates his memory and those of others, near the village of Tullaroan.
He won those medals in 1932, '33 and '35 when he captained Kilkenny in their great win over Limerick, the defending champions, but some say that his second half performance against Cork in the replay of the '31 decider was his finest. However, he could not turn out in the second replay when the Munster champions came out on top.
Meagher features prominently in the Heritage Centre, as do many other great Kilkenny players. Full page reports, carried by the Kilkenny People, of every All-Ireland final the county has contested are laminated and presented in a manner which makes this a Mecca for all followers of the game.
Medals and memorabilia of the Henderson brothers, Pat, John and Ger, are displayed in the special strong room where a hurley used by Lory Meagher has a special place of honour.