For years now, we’ve all been saying the same thing, probably more hoping as a wider hurling community, that the Kilkenny machine has to start grinding to a halt at some stage. We’ve been watching like hawks for signals; the retirement of so many big names, the lack of underage success, a suspect strength in depth, and the dearth of real quality forwards coming through.
Yet we’re all codding ourselves if we think the culture is going to change soon. It just won’t, especially while Brian Cody is around. And the culture defines everything with Kilkenny.
Only the anoraks and diehards outside Kilkenny would have known who Robert Lennon and James Maher were before yesterday. Both were in the top three for man-of-the-match. Maher got four points from play. Lennon cleaned out ‘Bonner’ Maher. Lennon stood into Kieran Joyce’s boots and more or less said to Tipp with their new, direct style, ‘No, yere not coming down the middle today, boys’. He fetched ball out of the sky for fun. It doesn’t matter who comes in; the culture is just continuous.
Kilkenny were typical Kilkenny. They got four goal chances and took two of them. If anyone else got the ball in Kevin Kelly’s position for the second opportunity, they’d have tapped the ball over the bar but Kilkenny’s forwards are always programmed to go for the jugular. Tipp got four goal chances and took none.
Kilkenny were very tactical too. There was long stages when Kelly was the only Kilkenny player inside the Tipp ’45. When Tipp threatened a green flag early on, there was a definite move to reposition Lester Ryan in a deeper role. Colin Fennelly came into the space vacated by Ryan. They just hung in until half-time but their workrate was incredible all through. They hounded and hustled Tipp at every chance. There was one cameo where they forced Paudie Maher to play a 40-yard crossfield ball which had no real pace on it. The ball was picked off by Walter Walsh, who drove it back over the crossbar.
Tipp showed a lot of fight but besides John McGrath, and Michael Breen to a lesser extent, the other newcomers didn’t match up. In fairness to Tomas Hamill, he played fairly well but he conceded the two goals to Kelly, although he had to go to John Joe Farrell for the first one. Marking Joey Holden was a much bigger proposition for Conor Kenny than Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell last weekend. Dan McCormack didn’t get going. Daire Quinn was taken off again. Jason Forde didn’t play but neither did Richie Hogan. Enough said.
Tipp have other issues than just their younger players. They still don’t know where is the best place to play the two Mahers, Paudie and Brendan. Is Brendan still more a midfielder than a wing-back? James Maher got four points off him. The modern game always makes it hard to tell whether Brendan Maher was on Maher the whole time but that concession rate is still a rap on his sheet.
The Kilkenny template is so clearly defined, like their culture. At one stage, Maher came deep and turned over Daire Quinn, broke into the space and drove the ball over the bar. How often have we seen Mick Fennelly and Richie Power make that same move? These new Kilkenny guys are not Mick Fennellys and Richie Powers but they play with the same mentality, and apply the same animal workrate, that made those great players who they were, and still are.
It is probably easier too for these young Kilkenny players to make the step up when they do get a jersey. Maher was put into a line with TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly, and Colin Fogarty playing right outside him. Fogarty put in another massive shift yesterday. He’s a maniac for work. It’s no wonder Cody loves him. TJ was immense too.
Yesterday was Tipp’s 13th meeting with Kilkenny in league or championship since the 2010 All-Ireland final and they’ve only won two of those games. There were positives but the nature of the defeat will just add to the question marks they have over Kilkenny if they meet them again. Will they ever be comfortable playing them? Will there ever be a stage when Tipp are three clear with six minutes to play and they can say, ‘We have it now’? That they can’t is as much down to the Tipp psyche as the Kilkenny psyche.
Kilkenny will be delighted today. There was a bit of chatter last week with Waterford beating them but Tipp beaten at home is always a great result. The manner in how they won it will have made it all the sweeter for Cody.
Waterford and Dublin will also be really happy after the weekend. The more I see of Waterford, the more they impress me. They are getting physically stronger. Their confidence is sky high. And they have absolute faith in the gameplan.
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