PM O'Sullivan: Derek Lyng always thrived so well because he strove so hard

Derek Lyng counts not as one of those guys born to play in stripes
PM O'Sullivan: Derek Lyng always thrived so well because he strove so hard

CLEAR-SIGHTED: New Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng is Noreside old money, says PM O'Sullivan

Hurling’s main puzzler got solved via the announcement of Derek Lyng as the latest new Senior manager.

Here came a Kilkenny solution to a Kilkenny problem. The place’s keynote is understated pragmatism. This solution to a difficult situation blends freshness and familiarity, new blood and solid repute. For what saying so is worth, I reckon this option represented the best one available in context. I wrote last year that Lyng should have been appointed for the 2018 season. I stand by that opinion.

The Emeralds clubman counts as Kilkenny hurling’s version of old money. Between 2002 and 2009, he won six Senior All-Irelands at midfield, rangy and driving and handy at picking off a point. From the start, I admired his determined and clear-sighted play. He set the right tone and he went back from nothing.

Derek Lyng counts not as one of those guys born to play in stripes, not a Michael Kavanagh or a Tommy Walsh, not a James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick or a Richie Power Jr. He thrived so well because he strove so hard. This candidate did not hurl intercountry at Minor or U21, did not make WIT’s Fitzgibbon Cup-winning teams of 1999 and 2000.

But he got there. And now he is Senior manager. There is likeable bravery as well in agreeing to succeed Brian Cody, the game’s most decorated and lauded helmsman. Wearing my Kilkenny supporter’s hat, I wish him the solid best.

Lyng faces two main tasks. He needs to finesse Kilkenny’s tactical approach. Item: Limerick were able to retain possession on their own puckout far too easily in the 2022 Senior Final. Under him, the team must achieve more flexibility and become less predictable.

The second demand is more complicated. Lyng needs to energise a group of players in their mid-twenties who often seem to have more to offer. On meanest count, this group includes Conor Delaney, John Donnelly, Richie Leahy, James Maher and Billy Ryan. There is the additional factor that Lyng, as U20 manager for the last three seasons, will possess keen appreciation of what tyros can be pushed and at what speed.

Management in sport turns on the chanciest things. A couple of weeks back, I amused a few people that I usually see on Monday nights in Ó Riada’s by raising whether a dose of flu for Brian Whelahan made Brian Cody Kilkenny’s manager for 24 years. I was obviously thinking of 1998’s Senior Final, where the flu-stricken wing back got switched to full forward and notched 1-3 from play. Offaly won by that six-point margin. Kevin Fennelly, then Kilkenny’s manager, finished up afterwards, opening the door for his first cousin’s appointment.

What if Whelahan had turned up in Croke Park with a clean bill of health? Would that switch have been made? Probably not. Do Kilkenny come home by a couple of points? Quite possibly so.

If so, Fennelly would have stayed at the helm for at least one more year. By the time the job vacancy reappeared ― late 1999, say ― Richie Power Sr would have overseen the U21 team’s unexpected success against Galway in that season’s All Ireland Final. A year on from 1998, Power would have been the obvious frontrunner for promotion to Senior.

The chanciest things, as I say.

Go back 12 months to August 2021. Back then, as regards Kilkenny’s next manager, there was a clear horizon. For County Board eyes, Henry Shefflin lay country miles ahead of the chasing pack ― well ahead of Derek Lyng, even. Now Shefflin is attending, as John Fogarty reported this week in these pages, club matches in Galway. His absence from the list of contenders in 2022 will remain a conundrum in Noreside hurling for the longest time.

We are where we are, departed from the Brian Cody era but somehow still part of that rich realm. There endures a wise proverb: ‘A new axe handle is hewn with the old axe handle.’ The Kilkenny County Board have swung their implement with no great severity, desiring a splice far more than a sharp cut.

Their logic is apparent. Taken in the round, the last two decades saw unprecedented progress. Therefore the next few years should be a graft, an extension of this era. Their logic is apparent.

Even so, All-Ireland success is Kilkenny hurling’s sole measure of health. Once all the hubbub dies back, the reality of seven years without a Senior title will re-emerge, like the shortening evenings, like drizzle. Truth told, Derek Lyng is in for the same reason as Jack O’Connor was reinstalled in Kerry: Senior glory.

Flu might rarely be a factor but everyone in hurling is forever coming down with results.

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