A 3-30 finish to a 3.30 start

CONTRADICTION, contradiction, all this contradiction. What we witnessed in Croke Park yesterday was the most lopsided All-Ireland final since 1943, when Cork hammered Antrim by 27 points (5-16 to 0-4).

And yet, despite the fact that thousands of Waterford supporters chose to leave early, this wasn’t a washout of a day, because we witnessed one of the greatest displays of all time, by one of the greatest teams of all time, perhaps even — in both instances — the greatest ever.

Certainly, according to manager Brian Cody, it was the best display under his magnificent stewardship. So, one contradiction.

Most of all, however, there was contradiction in the displays of the two teams. Waterford was the team coming in here with only two All-Ireland titles, with their last appearance on this grand stage being all of 45 years ago; Kilkenny were the ones with the 30 titles, with four won in the last six years, including the last two.

Waterford then, were the guys you expected to have the ferocious appetite for this game, Kilkenny trying to curb that appetite, pick up a morsel or two themselves as the game progressed.

And yet, and yet again, contradiction; Kilkenny devoured Waterford yesterday, swallowed them whole. As a spectacle, it was at once distressing and uplifting, a conflict of emotions as you empathised with Waterford and admired Kilkenny.

In truth admiration is far too tame a word for what we saw yesterday. This was wondrous, this was awesome, this was a display for the ages.

An odd little moment of symmetry afterwards; deep beneath the towering heights of the Hogan Stand, as Kilkenny’s Eoin Larkin was being interviewed, Waterford’s Eoin Kelly was passing through, paused, diverted to shake the hand of the Kilkenny star.

Two Eoins, meeting in passing, but there was more to it than just that; Larkin and Kelly were generally regarded as being in direct competition for the hurler-of-the-year award; Eoin Kelly probably knew his congratulations were on the double.

The thing is though, they’re not very comfortable with individual awards in Kilkenny, not very comfortable when one man is separated from the team, and so it is that Eoin squirms a bit when the above scenario is presented. "It’s not about individuals, it’s about Kilkenny winning the All-Ireland."

Eoin did relent, however, a little, but then drove on. "I’m happy with my form this year, hopefully I’ve taken it on another level from last year, and hopefully I’ll be able to take it on to another level again next year."

Up a level next year? Where do they stop, these Kilkenny hurlers? When is enough? But that’s the secret, isn’t it?

For these guys there is no concept of enough, there is only more, and more and more. Yesterday they were going for three-in-a-row, something Kilkenny had never before achieved on the field of play; they were also in a position to top the roll of honour on their own, something they’ve never achieved before.

They were aware of all those potentials, yet their minds were taken up not with what they might do, but with what Waterford might do, and what they would have to do prevent that.

Yesterday they anticipated everything Waterford could possibly throw at them, anticipated it and this prevented it, had what amounted to a shutout. Pressure? What pressure. "In Kilkenny, you expect to be dealing with pressure; you keep your head down, keep working, and that’s what we did during the past few weeks. We’re playing a game we love, we’re playing it long enough. We talked about working hard, about getting ourselves into the game.

"Waterford had a lot of hunger, 45 years since they were in an All-Ireland final, five semi-finals lost in the last 10 years — we expected them to come at us with everything they had, so we felt we had to be really on top of our game.

"We’re always talking about defence; it starts with the corner-forward, that’s where most of our success stems from, that work-rate all over the field.

"Our six backs — I can’t describe them. They’re masters of closing down the space, they just know what to do at all times. But they’re always saying, it’s the forwards give them that bit of time to close down the space, it’s the work done up front.

" It’s the little things you have to work on, the little things you have to get right. They’re simple things but they’re important and we work a lot on that; others would call them small things, the blocking down, the hooking, the flicks — the basics. We call them the important things."

What Larkin is preaching there, of course, is the gospel according to St Brian — that’s team manager Brian Cody, now canonised, with the three-in-a-row finally on his CV.

"He had a massive role in this," says Eoin; "Everyone was blowing us up in the build-up, but we were under no illusions, because Brian left us under no illusions, that Waterford were going to be really up for this game, that they were going to throw everything at us. He had us bang on but his record speaks for itself, no-one can take that away from him now. He’s an unbelievable manager, wants to get the best out of you every game, every year."

Okay, so now, three-in-a-row finally achieved, what’s next for Kilkenny? Four-in-a-row Eoin? "Look, we’ll enjoy this one first, enjoy the winter, go back training after the holiday, take it from there." Oh they’ll take it from there alright. They won’t say it out loud, but having made so much history yesterday, are they going to stop now?

Can anyone stop them?