In his duties with Sky Sport in Wexford on Saturday, JJ Delaney was operating around the sideline close to Brian Cody.
The great man would surely have been aware of his greatest ever defender’s presence, but he never let on.
Looking on, the natural assumption was how Cody dearly would have loved to have Delaney at his disposal.
Then again, he might have had reason to take the hump with him. Earlier in the week, Delaney stoked the fire when he claimed Wexford had dented Kilkenny’s pride in the Division 1 quarter-final defeat.
“Yeah, even things like Kilkenny getting a sideline and the Wexford lad pushing him over the line, that’s a mentality thing. That’s not a normal league game. That is: ‘I am here to set down a marker.’ That is bullying and intimidation and they brought that to the table.”
Henry Shefflin also felt it was Kilkenny who had the motivational edge going into the game: “I actually think it’s ideally set up for Kilkenny. That would be my take on it. That’s the way I would think, if I was playing, would be very motivated, and I think the learnings from that game.”
While Jackie Tyrrell, whose new Irish Times column had made for refreshingly honest reading, also predicted a Kilkenny win for similar reasons.
“The biggest influence was actually the fact Kilkenny were nowhere near at the pitch of what was required. They were disorganised. They didn’t know who their sweeper was or how best to use him. TJ Reid was getting ratty with James Breen. They just looked to be rattled. Wexford played well but I know what a well-prepared Kilkenny team looks like and that was not it.”
The three men all spoke separately. It wasn’t a concerted effort to try and cajole Kilkenny. What they said echoed the prevailing sentiment in Kilkenny but cumulatively they were feeding a monster in Wexford.
Davy Fitzgerald alluded to as much before the game: “All I’m hearing is how much Kilkenny are hurt and how they won’t be pushed around when they come down here. But if you think about it that way, sure Wexford have been taking their treatment for a long number of years.”
Fitzgerald’s co-captain Matthew O’Hanlon confirmed it afterwards: “You’ve seen the papers over the last couple of weeks Kilkenny owed Wexford one, that they would be hurting from the league quarter-final. But how many times have we been on the opposite end of the stick? The last 10-15 years we’ve got some serious trimmings from them but we knew that we owed them and we still do.”
The words of Delaney, Shefflin, and Tyrrell were as useful to Kilkenny as PJ Ryan was in his role as Wexford selector and maor foirne on Saturday.
Another ex- colleague of theirs, Tommy Walsh, spoke last year of the need for this current crop to develop their own identity and be judged more sympathetically but when there are constant reminders of how great Kilkenny were in the media it’s difficult.
In our preview in Saturday’s newspaper, we mentioned this was more than a local rivalry but a battle of ideologies too.
Tyrrell has openly spoken of his hatred of the sweeper system. Shefflin and Delaney have both described it as “negative” while Shefflin has also mentioned it as “limited”.
The team they played on would have likely smashed the system operated by Wexford but pinning their hopes on this current Kilkenny side to do so would have been far-fetched.
As it turned out, Kilkenny were so spooked by facing a sweeper they deserted the convention that served them so well and emulated the free defender as Conor Fogarty covered between the full-back and half-back lines.
Richie Hogan, lining out as a deep-lying midfield, was inside his own 20 metre line on a few occasions.
They did attempt to mark Wexford’s sweeper Shaun Murphy but it wasn’t so successful. And what Kilkenny were hoping to do by juggling up their numbers in defence, we just don’t know.
Were it only a game, Kilkenny would have stood a better chance but they had made it more than that.
It was billed as an opportunity to restore “natural order” and if Fitzgerald’s hurling philosophy could be humbled at the same time, then all the better, but they failed on each count largely due to abandoning a lot of what they preach, not to mention starting players who were hardly match-fit.
“The reality of it is we were written off before; we’ve been beaten before,” said Cody at last month’s Leinster championship launch.
Exactly who was dismissing Kilkenny we don’t know although former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy a week later said that they were in decline. More will feel comfortable to declare as much now but Kilkenny should feast on that.
The Kilkenny of Delaney, Shefflin and Tyrrell certainly would. Usually, we would only hear that Kilkenny have been disrespected when they have the Liam MacCarthy Cup in their possession, not on the eve of championship. Usually, Wexford wouldn’t be such a nuisance.
The ghosts of Kilkenny past weren’t in a position to help on Saturday and they didn’t: they hindered.
Kerrigan’s dig at Kerry media monopoly
Some of his team-mates have to take a longer look in the mirror but it can’t be said that Paul Kerrigan has shirked his captaincy responsibilities these last few weeks.
The Nemo Rangers man has been the pick of the bunch in both of Cork’s narrow wins over Waterford and Tipperary.
On Sunday evening, he spoke to Red FM where he had a dig at the number of former Kerry players in the media: “Yeah, they kind of have a monopoly on the sportswriting and on telly, like! It suits them to have a cut off us all the time.”
We can’t speak for Colm Cooper or Micheál Quirke of this parish but we do detect forlornness in how those formerly of the green and gold write and talk about Cork.
Take it for granted they would love nothing more than for Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s team to fillet Cork on July 2 in the Munster final.
However, the lack of a rivalry has numbed Kerry.
In 19 days’ time, Fitzmaurice will hope to stretch his unbeaten record in Munster as a manager to 12 games.
Of the team that started against Clare, only Donnchadh Walsh and Barry John Keane know what it is to lose to Cork in championship.
From the Cork 15 that began the win over Tipperary on Saturday, just Kerrigan, Michael Shields and Colm O’Neill have seen off Kerry in SFC fare.
What would suit Kerry is a stronger Cork;
one they would probably still beat, but one that would keep them more honest and shorten the gap to the All-Ireland series.
The question for Cork is do they want to be more than just a teaser pony?
Mayo should now turn to youth
Elsewhere on this page, you’ll read about another All-Ireland runners-up team being dumped out of their provincial championship, and the concerns about Mayo’s continuing presence in their competition are almost as pressing as those for Kilkenny.
Mayo thrive in adversity but to fall short of a provincial final for a second year running after such a glorious five-season spell in Connacht can’t but test their resolve.
Granted, there will be positives taken from how they competed without Keith Higgins but Galway, derby factors aside, haven’t come close to what their neighbours have achieved in recent times.
One of the conclusions that will be reached is this Mayo version has elapsed. Fair enough, Colm Cooper saying prior to the championship this summer was make or break for them but in his Mayo News column last week Billy Joe Padden argued a similar point: “Everybody outside the camp, and I’m guessing most of the guys inside too, are wondering if this squad could bounce back from another defeat in the Connacht championship. I don’t think they could, if I’m being honest.”
Injuries have shaped more of Stephen Rochford’s thinking than he would like but the next day, considering the highest-ranked team Mayo can face is Louth may be the time to inject more youth into the starting line-up and use their experience as the cavalry from the bench before what is shaping up to be a hellish third round where they could face the likes of Donegal, Tyrone, Meath, Kildare or Clare.
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