The Tour de France will start later this month. Growing up, it was always an iconic sporting event of the summer but doping and drugs have completely diluted the authenticity and purity of the sport, especially the Tour de France. The event is fighting a constant battle for credibility and respect but the sport’s basic nature is still so raw and savage that the race still often strips everything else back to the bottom line of absolute will, and power of the mind.
The cyclist who breaks away from the pack up Alpe d’Huez is fighting a mind game against the machine. He is battling oxygen debt and the mountain’s savagery, his muscles are screaming for respite as the peloton try and hunt him down. The pack sense that vulnerability as they gradually reel him in. When they do, they crush him. Mentally, the guy who thought he could beat the machine is just crushed by it.
Kilkenny are the machine, the peloton who just hunt everyone down, who simply refuse to let anyone out of their sight and out of their reach. Dublin were one point behind at half-time but I’m sure they felt in a good place on that climb up the mountain. They were battling hard. They were playing well. I even thought myself if they could continue to hang in, they might have the legs to win the sprint on the home straight.
Yet I would also imagine that they could feel Kilkenny’s hot breath on their necks as they desperately tried to break free from their clutches in that first half. I’m sure the Kilkenny boys sensed that vulnerability too. Dublin knew Kilkenny were getting ready to unleash an onslaught. It’s almost reverse psychology. Kilkenny are thinking, ‘Now is the time to crush these boys.’ The opposition are almost waiting for that prophesy to happen.
Is all that psychological? It has to be. Kilkenny get stronger as the opposition get weaker. Their workrate in the first half was savage. Their willingness to block and hook and tackle was incredible but they turned into an even hungrier beast after the break. Just like the second half of last year’s All-Ireland final, Kilkenny’s intensity increased and Dublin were mentally crushed. And when your mind goes against the All-Ireland champions, the peloton doesn’t just reel you in; they roll over you.
Kilkenny are just incredible. After the league semi-final hammering by Clare, they went back to their clubs for a few weeks. I think they only had three weeks together before Saturday night’s game but they are amazing fellas to get themselves ready for the battle. They don’t need Brian Cody looking over their shoulder. They know what is required. They know how to get it done. The fellas who were caked in rust against Clare were shining and gleaning like new rods of steel on Saturday. Unbreakable.
Is Michael Fennelly the Paul McGrath of hurling now? He wasn’t seen during the league. He is so ravaged with injury he hardly trains. Fennelly pulled his hamstring in a club match recently. And then he arrives in Portlaoise and bestrides the pitch like a giant, knocking everything and everyone out of his way like skittles.
If Kilkenny can win the three-in-a-row with this team, it will possibly be Cody’s greatest achievement. The man has done everything but he continues to do more. Last year, Ger Aylward scored 3-3 in Kilkenny’s first match against Wexford. He ended the season as an All-Star. On Saturday, John Jo Farrell hit 1-5 from play. The production line may be slowing down but Cody is still mining these gems from the quarry in Nowlan Park.
Dublin had no forward operating at that level. Most of their best players were in defence. Eoghan Donnell had a brilliant game on Eoin Larkin. Cian O’Callaghan did really well on a number of players. Shane Barrett tried hard. Liam Rushe was defiant at centre-back. Daire Plunkett was one of the only forwards to make any bit of an impact but how big was that impact? Daire had to go desperate deep to win possession in the second-half. Plunkett is very quick but it’s a long road from your own 21 in O’Moore Park. With Ryan O’Dwyer gone off at half-time, Dublin had nobody to win any ball when Kilkenny forced them to go long.
Paul Murphy hoovered it up like one of those new fancy Dyson machines. Kieran Joyce refused to let Niall McMorrow get on the ball like he did against Wexford. David Treacy came so deep in the second-half that Dublin needed to get another body out to battle in that middle third, even if that meant having just one forward inside.
Dotsy O’Callaghan is probably not able to do that battling anymore but he needed that perfect ball inside. That perfect ball also never arrived for Eamonn Dillon in the first half, where he could spin and use his pace, but perfect doesn’t exist in the chaotic world Kilkenny create.
Kilkenny will face bigger challenges but they still made a huge statement. The machine is still rolling on.