Cillian Buckley dived to prevent a goal at Croke Park on Sunday as if he and Kilkenny had not won a medal or trophy in decades, writes Peter McNamara.
While their attack has been lauded continuously over the years for their ruthlessness, his 50th minute goal-line clearance in the second half withdrew a substantial amount of Galway’s remaining oxygen in the Leinster SHC final.
It was as ruthless an act of defensive bravery as Richie Hogan’s demeanour upon his arrival after half-time.
Buckley and Pádraig Walsh, as wing-backs, operate on another stratosphere entirely.
Their energy levels are absolutely outrageous.
However, it is their game-intelligence that marks them out as arguably the most efficient No 5 and No 7 in the country at present.
To find himself in the position of being able to deny the Tribesmen a green flag at that particular time illustrated that cleverness on Buckley’s part.
The game of hurling is ridiculously intense nowadays between the two half-lines.
Yet, how often did Buckley and Walsh emerge from seemingly harsh situations with possession at headquarters? They always seem to find themselves in the right place at the right time.
And just like that, Kilkenny have put themselves four in front. Padraig Walsh the latest to split the posts. 0-12 0-08 now #DUBvKK— #OTBAM (@OffTheBallAM) June 11, 2016
That’s not by sheer coincidence. To achieve this you really need to be as shrewd a reader of the code as it gets.
Of course, Walsh will have gained invaluable experience from a certain brother of his who wrote the textbook on wing-back proficiency.
And Pádraig is cut from the same cloth as his elder.
The manic aggression himself and Buckley present on a consistent basis is essential to Kilkenny’s capacity to remain at the top.
For years Brian Cody and Kilkenny have launched assault after assault on every trophy available to them from their half-back line.
And yet, how often have opponents managed to overpower them in that sector in order to out-score the Cats? It just doesn’t happen. They refuse to allow it.
Just imagine the energy Buckley and Walsh give to others around them when they ravage their way to the most unlikely of possessions prior to hitting a cross-field pass that leads to a score?
It must be soul-destroying for the opposition too. And that’s vital.
You have to absolutely bury the opposition a foot deeper psychologically at every single opportunity.
Your opponents should barely believe in their ability to win the next ball, never mind the match.
After all, it’s not personal. It’s business. Business is cut-throat. And Kilkenny represent the most profitable hurling establishment for exactly those reasons.
Conor Fogarty and Richie Hogan were viewed as the key men on Sunday.
However, a high percentage of the possessions they thrived on were initially secured by the wing-backs.
Walsh was guilty of drilling one or two balls wide from range.
However, he learned extremely quickly and began to recycle the ball more and more as the second half wore on.
That self-belief to adapt stems from the responsibility Cody bestows upon these individuals.
Unlike a lot of so-called major names in the game currently Kilkenny’s operators don’t need their hands held by those on the sideline to get the job done.
They man up when the chips are down and force the game back on their terms through sheer will while their opponents wilt, as Galway did again.
Too many teams take the easy option and blame factors outside of the white lines.
For that alone, they will be remembered in decades to come.
Meanwhile, Daniel Kearney has got to start for Cork against Wexford in Thurles on Saturday evening in round two of the All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers.
The Rebels are seven-point favourites with the odds-compilers to drive into the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
However, they will require Kearney’s manic intensity to counteract Wexford’s exuberance in the middle-third.
Liam Dunne’s men lacked team-balance at Croke Park when they were demolished by 13 points in the provincial quarter-final against Dublin.
They were shy of fluency on that occasion.
That night at headquarters, Dunne had Andrew Kenny, Paul Morris and David Dunne in his half-forward line while Liam Óg McGovern, Conor McDonald and Podge Doran comprised the Slaneysiders’ inside line.
Dunne reconfigured his attack last Saturday at Wexford Park and it yielded dividends.
McGovern was drawn out to wing-forward, as was Doran to the opposite wing and David Dunne shifted to corner-forward.
This time, Dunne had McGovern, Lee Chin and Doran in the half-forward sector with Morris, McDonald and David Dunne ahead of that trio in the full-forward line.
Wexford were better offensively for the switches. In fact, each of those six starting forwards scored.
Diarmuid O’Keeffe proved to be Wexford’s other scoring contributor positioned at wing-back.
The balance of their attack was notable in contrast to the shortage of it against Ger Cunningham’s side.
Of course, Offaly are weaker than Dublin so Wexford’s offensive affluence was expected.
Therefore, their offensive plays were far more likely to be viewed in a positive light.
Yet, there would be genuine cause for optimism around their squad this week.
Doran, in particular, was superb nailing four points in open play.
Still, if Kearney begins this upcoming contest the number of scoring opportunities Wexford have the ability to create is highly likely to diminish because of the pressure he applies to players darting through the centre of the pitch.
Chin operated in a slightly withdrawn role from centre-forward and controlled the tempo of their success last Saturday.
Kearney would relish supplementing the half back line’s efforts in nullifying Chin’s potential influence.
And the Sarsfields’ clubman deserves to start once again.
You would have to appreciate how his introduction at Páirc Uí Rinn coincided with a definitive increase in the work-ethic of the Leesiders.
His attitude is infectious. The man has the heart of a lion.
Chin would be monitored with greater diligence as Kearney would track his runs in support of Chris Joyce who is less likely to follow the Wexford playmaker if he drifts from the half-forward line.