1. Noel Hickey: Kilkenny got away without him last year simply because they were still just that bit too good for everyone else.
But a fit Noel Hickey, guarding the edge of the square as only a natural full-back can do, is a huge boost for Brian Cody and his all-conquering Cats. JJ Delaney has filled in there, Brian Hogan also, and both did reasonably well for guys whose more natural instincts are for the opens spaces further out the park, but Noel Hickey is totally at home there. That’s his place, his space, trespassers beware. There is a further advantage, of course, in that the half-back line of Tommy Walsh/Brian Hogan/JJ Delaney is now again intact which is bad news for hurling forwards everywhere.
2. The Michaels in midfield: Rice and Fennelly. Cha and Lyngers (James Fitzpatrick and Derek Lyng) are the ones most identified with Kilkenny in this crucial area over the last hugely successful half-dozen years, but as with Hickey, injury has curtailed the efforts of both at various times. So step forward Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly.
Both are tremendous athletes with massive work-rates, and are well-suited to a position that demands constant running. But both are also well capable of taking a score, the versatile Rice especially so, as he showed when shifted to wing-forward on Sunday. Both are good delivery-men also, it was Rice’s perfectly placed ball that set up Richie Power for his game-breaking second half virtuoso goal.
3. The Bench: There was a time when, if a team was going well, the starting 15 wouldn’t be touched. Not anymore. Such is the pace of the modern game that a) many players run themselves into the ground, or b) many players – even on a winning team – are simply overrun. As was seen in Kilkenny’s win over Dublin on Sunday last, seen ever more emphatically in the Galway/Offaly to-and-fro knock-‘em-down drag-‘em-out heavyweight bout that followed, hurling is a game where things can change very quickly.
Examples: Between the 63rd and 68th minutes Kilkenny went from hitting 2-15 to accumulating 4-19 and ended up with that final victory margin of 19 points. You think Dublin aren’t capable themselves of just such a run? In a 13-minute spell in the first half of the Offaly/Galway game, Offaly went from trailing by four points (0-5 to 0-1) to leading by six (3-4 to 0-7); in an even more lethal three minutes of the second, Galway went from four behind (3-8 to 0-13) to four in front (2-15 to 3-8).
That’s hurling in 2010, a game capable of being turned on its head in minutes, and that’s why it’s crucial to have that bench – with Eoin Larkin (former hurler-of-the-year), John Mulhall (league sensation), Aidan Fogarty (former All-Ireland final man-of-the-match, two-goal hero on Sunday), and the redoubtable Derek Lyng all called into the fray against Dublin, Kilkenny are well served in that department, wouldn’t you say?
(And don’t forget the likes of Cha and John Tennyson are still to come back while others such as veteran James Ryall and youngster Paddy Hogan are waiting in the wings).
In any 15-man team, 30-man panel, multiple-member management team, there are bound to be occasional flaws, but this group is as near to perfect as has ever been seen. Their success is well earned, everything they get is well deserved.