THEY won by six points, I don’t think they wanted to win by any more than that”, said Tony Considine in these pages yesterday, summing up the Cats’ win over Waterford in Sunday’s All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final.
I don’t think any team goes out to play any game with a maximum winning margin in their heads but we all know what Tony means.
Tipperary are the most talked-about team in hurling at the moment; they are raging-hot favourites to win this Sunday’s second semi-final against Dublin and nothing will please Kilkenny manager Brian Cody more than to have themselves talked down for the final.
“Oh yes, definitely — I was talking to people in Kilkenny this morning and that is the case,” says two-time All-Ireland-winning Kilkenny captain Liam Fennelly. “There are real concerns after what they saw (on Sunday). Are the lads still able to play that intensive game they played three or four years ago? I don’t know. Our forwards weren’t tracking back as they usually do, and I’m still trying to figure out in my own mind — is it that coming up to this game, knowing they were going to win, their minds were already on the All-Ireland final? Are the bodies gone or can they find that one last big game that will make them not just a great team, but take them beyond that again?”
Could it be, however, that Sunday was an aberration; that the form on which Kilkenny should be judged this championship season is the Leinster final, a game they had to win for any number of reasons? Those include preserving their Leinster record, handing upstarts Dublin a lesson and avoiding the dangerous qualifier route. Perhaps, says Liam. “The minds were right that day and they tore into Dublin from the start.
“I’m trying to put myself in their shoes (on Sunday), going to Croke Park knowing they were going to win. Even the supporters weren’t really up for this game. I had three spare tickets for yesterday, rang five people and offered them for free, offered to bring them to Dublin then straight home afterwards — they turned them down, couldn’t motivate themselves to go they told me. If the fans can’t motivate themselves, mightn’t the same be said of the players?
“They kind of went into an ould lull, Waterford came back but when Kilkenny needed a point or two they were still able to slot them over. I just can’t get over Waterford to be honest with you, this was a day to have a cut and they didn’t, see if Kilkenny had another gear, because Kilkenny were definitely off form.”
THE important thing from Brian Cody’s perspective, reckons Liam (Brian’s first cousin, incidentally) is that Kilkenny are in yet another final, and he will be taking the positives from this win. “I’d say he’s very happy, he’d have looked at the newcomers, the likes of Paul Murphy, David Herity and Colin (Fennelly, Liam’s nephew) and been satisfied with how they performed, the extra experience they’re after getting.
“They looked sharp, all of them. He knows what the others can do on the big day, now he knows those lads are fine.”
Something else in favour of Kilkenny for this final, and surely additional motivation, a record-equalling (on the field of play) eighth All-Ireland medal for Henry Shefflin. So many times in the last all-conquering decade Henry has been the man to carry Kilkenny across the line; if ever a man was ‘owed’ by his teammates, if ever there was a day to deliver, this is it.
“It’s amazing how good this team has been, amazing how good Henry has been,” says Liam, “yet he still hasn’t matched what Christy Ring and John Doyle have done — just goes to show how hard it is to break records. I’d have to say that if Tipperary get past Dublin, which I expect them to do, I’d go for them to win this All-Ireland. But, we’ll see how good they are when the expectations are on them — they haven’t been very successful in the last 20 years in those situations, have they?”
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