FOR ONCE, the cliché about the journey being more important than the destination was true.
Yesterday, Kilkenny’s hurlers ended an emotional year with an emphatic win over Limerick in the All-Ireland hurling final, 2-19 to 1-15.
In his victory speech, Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin dedicated the county’s latest senior victory to the memory of Vanessa McGarry, wife of substitute goalkeeper James McGarry, who died in a car accident earlier in the season.
On the field, Kilkenny also had to overcome adversity. They scored two early goals before losing star full-back Noel Hickey with a hamstring injury, while Shefflin himself had to withdraw at half-time with a suspected cruciate ligament injury.
Star forward James "Cha" Fitzpatrick admitted Kilkenny had needed to show character. "At half-time we lost two of our big players, Henry and Noel, so it was time for other players to stand up to the plate and show some leadership."
Kilkenny were able to keep Limerick at arm’s length for the second half, ending the game seven points ahead, and they will now focus on getting three in a row next year. Manager Brian Cody said yesterday, however, that he wasn’t thinking in those terms, preferring to pay tribute to his players.
"That doesn’t mean an awful lot to me. It’s all about the moment for me. I’m not obsessed in the slightest with three in a row. I didn’t replace Henry or Noel out there — the players did."
Limerick selector Gary Kirby was understandably downbeat.
"We didn’t come up just to be in the final," said Kirby. "We came up to win it. What killed it was every time we got a score — and we fought hard to get scores — Kilkenny just went up and popped another one over the bar."
Kilkenny now join Cork with 30 All-Ireland senior hurling titles.
Earlier, Tipperary beat Cork in the minor decider 3-14 to 2-11.