Almost nothing leaks out of the Hoover Dam that is the Kilkenny senior hurling panel.
This year’s drips were consistent. Mucho fuss over last winter’s big retirements became serious motivation. Some players discerned an implication that the lads left were no great shakers of sticks.
2015’s coming panel bonded fiercely while holidaying in America last January and vowed to prove themselves more than add-ons for legends. Maybe there were no implications of this kind in media coverage but sportsmen nail their motivation where they find it.
Coincidentally or not, Joey Holden spent a little longer as Gaeilge during his acceptance speech than is the norm. What he said in Irish emphasised that panel spirit is stronger than ever, retirements or no retirements. Keeping to Irish was a form of tact.
This refreshed spirit propelled a rejigged panel to splendour on Croke Park grass sooner than most observers thought possible. Sure enough, there is plenty disquiet about the champions’ campaign. Online GAA discussion roiled, during the week, with a cocktail of begrudgery, disgust, envy, fear, resentment and unease. That whole cráic is brewing again.
Which or whether, TJ Reid insisted in a post-match interview that his crowd were going precisely nowhere. This much wants so much more.
We might believe it, in two languages.
The dynamics spin with every win. 2015 saw Brian Cody become sole man still standing from 2000. These brackets are meaningful.
Every title gained hereafter, if further ones are gained, dismantles a particular schtick: ‘Here now, hadn’t he JJ Delaney and Noel Hickey and Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh and Spider-Man and King Kong at his disposal?’ Outsiders would be surprised at that schtick’s appeal to certain natives. Remarkably enough, Cody’s personal motivation might have increased.
Somewhere out there is the outfit that is going to crease Kilkenny. Guff will not do it. Required will be hard work plus leadership plus talent plus a willingness not to find excuses in one squad’s excellence. The matter is straightforward in its essence.
Item: Tomorrow’s U21 Final. Limerick need to forget about August 2014, when they nearly beat Kilkenny. The future no longer holds that month.
For Limerick and Wexford, the future begins tomorrow evening in Semple Stadium. Progress requires finding talent disdainful of second best.
Each team has candidates in this category. I particularly like the look of Limerick’s Ronan Lynch and Tom Morrissey, of Wexford’s Paudie Foley.
Predictably enough, Kilkenny’s joy in senior victory grigged some commentators as too private. Too few of their supporters, seemingly, stayed for the lap of honour. Then Colin Fennelly caused consternation by hesitating when asked whether this triumph gave him three or four All-Ireland medals.
You take your satisfaction as it comes. For me, it was running into someone beforehand whose grandfather captained Kilkenny in the 1930s. It was sitting beside someone whose granduncle won a celtic cross in 1933. No less was it meeting afterwards, coming out of the Hogan, someone whose father was a sub for 1931’s three All-Ireland finals with Cork.
There is an architecture of the air in Kilkenny hurling, a set of connections no less palpable for being invisible. The architecture holds everything by holding nothing. Hurling is infinitely more important than Kilkenny hurling but the county remains a decent part of the most beautiful game.
Who knows, disquiet or no disquiet, when the stripy men will make another decider? But there is mortal delight in knowing that the ship will keep sailing towards the light, long after your own eyes fail.
We are mammals and everything, beyond a certain point, is letting go.
Back down in good time, we watched a recording in Delaney’s on Patrick Street, punching in time before The Sunday Game. There was a big stir in the place and they were unhappy that Eoin Larkin, one of their own in The Village, did not make the shortlist for RTÉ’s man of the match.
No matter: This Larkin had already managed far greater distinction. He became the fourth man to win eight celtic crosses in succession as a starter, following Christy Ring, John Doyle and Henry Shefflin. JJ Delaney likewise has eight medals as a starter (and nine in total) but 2006’s injury-halted season lies between his second win in 2003 and his fourth win in 2007.
Fan Larkin, stalwart of the Kilkenny full-back-line in the 1960s and 70s, happened to be near me at the end. We walked a bit together, living up the same way.
Fan is still the same Fan, hale out, compact as a bullet, witty as an exile. No ball is left unhopped.
You can watch footage online of Paddy Larkin, Fan’s father, coming out onto Croke Park with his colleagues before meeting Cork in the 1926 All-Ireland final. There is something lost and poignant about beforehand in so long an aftermath.
That day’s hurlers wore an assortment of togs. Paddy Larkin’s pair appears to be black, anticipating the infamous togs of 1976, never seen again, when Fan was captain, with his Zapata moustache, and Wexford destroyed Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
Martin White, fine hurler of the 1930s and alive until 2011, told me a story about Paddy Larkin. They were on the train down from Dublin, last stage of coming back from the team’s trip to America in 1934. That trip was blamed for defeat to Dublin in the Leinster final.
Paddy had crutches after getting injured during an exhibition game in New York. Martin was staying on the train, heading to Waterford, where he had a bakery.
As they came within minutes of the station, the other man said with emphasis: “The people of Patrick Street will never see Paddy Larkin on crutches.” He threw them out a window and hobbled off, those minutes later.
Parting, I shook hands with Fan, with 1926 and 1934 and 1976, years Kilkenny did not win, and went home.
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