PM O'SULLIVAN: Perspective lost in Wexford’s ash cloud

Wexford were thoroughly deserving winners against Kilkenny. Twenty-one scores to 14 scores is an eloquent ratio, writes PM O’Sullivan. 

Welcome to the Wexford ash cloud.

Wonderful view, even if nobody can see a foot in front of their face. Whose hurlers will now win the All-Ireland? Who cares, since probably not Tipperary and definitely not Kilkenny.

Or so it seems, peering through June’s murk. Never has a dirty vista looked more appealing.

Welcome to a brave new world. Wexford’s superb victory last weekend blew the whole shooting gallery up in the air, not just for this season but probably for a few more, too. The result, a three-point win that could have been more emphatic, proves a team other than Tipperary can take down Kilkenny. Planet Hurling held avid for this intelligence for an achingly long time.

Not a sinner could begrudge Wexford their purple hour. There came understandable emotion, as when centre-back and captain Matthew O’Hanlon remarked: “The last 10-15 years, we’ve got some serious trimmings from them, so, we knew that we owed them and we still do.”

Fair dues. Wexford were thoroughly deserving winners. Twenty-one scores to 14 scores is an eloquent ratio.

There is a sense, though, in which analysis of this Leinster semi-final lacked nuance. For most commentators, the story worked out simply. Kilkenny were clueless, lacking any plan, while Wexford sucked tactical diesel.

This assessment, like most black-and-white scenarios, is partial. Although disappointing all over the field, Kilkenny did arrive with a reasonable plan, one that thrived in the first half, save for nine wides (seven of which should have been slotted).

Corner-forwards Ger Aylward and Colin Fennelly stayed in a menacingly high line, with full-forward Richie Hogan drifting out the field. This ploy prised space to be exploited by Aylward, save for his four wides, and Fennelly.

Kilkenny likewise pushed up seven on seven on their own puckout, with Lester Ryan typically marking Shaun Murphy, Wexford’s sweeper. This gambit paid a decent dividend in the first half, but went all but unnoticed in post-match reaction. Still, other managers will clock the possibilities involved.

Perspective lost in Wexford’s ash cloud

On the evening, the doubt-planting opportunities offered by Aylward’s miscues, Pádraig Walsh’s three wides and TJ Reid’s two pulled frees were squandered. Another evening, Kilkenny could have made half-time 1-12 to 0-12 ahead, resuming with a strong wind at their back. People would then have been chattering about the madness of a seventh defender when advantaged by a near gale.

Now, do not take me wrong. Too often in the second half, Eoin Murphy bashed down the middle with his puckouts, condensing play in a manner that always suits the leading team. Emblematically, the puckout after David Redmond’s 39th-minute goal got devoured by Murphy, sweeping behind a massed defence.

Yes, Wexford much deserved to win, but the task of assessing hurling surely runs beyond totting the final score. Shades of grey are the most colourful aspects of an aftermath.

There are always humorous angles. The most surprising of candidates opted in on the Kilkenny obituary act. A Monday morning column by Brendan Cummins noted: “If there’s a weakness in Cody, this is it, setting up his team. In fact, it’s a blind spot.”

There is nice irony in this man being the bearer of bad glee. Following 2011’s senior final, there was consensus that his puckouts, headless and heedless, were a significant factor in Tipperary not retaining their title.

The same Monday, Ger Loughnane claimed: “The Kilkenny of 2017 is not the Kilkenny of 2007.” Fair enough, after a banal fashion. None of us alive in 2007 is exactly the same at present. Volcanoes explode, hair greys and hurlers retire.

Perspective lost in Wexford’s ash cloud

Funnily enough, Ollie Canning was asked last year about the 2007 season. He replied: “When Ger Loughnane was over Galway, a 10-point loss to Kilkenny was about the height of it.”

Loughnane remained manager when Galway lost to a 14-man Cork by two points in 2008. The main reason given by that panel when later seeking his removal? That they did not know exactly how they were lining out against Cork until Loughnane finally told them in the pre-match huddle.

Yes, some people’s memory is shocking short. Those candidates would win every sort of medal in the Goldfish Olympics. One victory for Wexford, however stirring and admirable, cannot airbrush history.

Anyhow, I have to laugh when I hear stuff about sweepers and tactics as a panacea for every hurling ailment. What happened Cork against Tipperary in 2016, with William Egan deployed as a sweeper? Nine points of a loss that could have been 19.

Cork against Tipperary in 2017, without a sweeper? Four-point win.

Dear readers, shall I reveal what passes as a secret? Here goes. There is a perspective out there in which Kilkenny are Dingos hurling, while the other stuff, beginning with Cork of the mid-2000s, is Prada hurling.

The problem is that the other stuff, beginning with Cork of the mid-2000s, nearly always lost. Still and all, you have this take where hurling’s proper path was a Cork six-in-a-row between 2004 and 2009. Then, other Munster counties, coached or managed by someone from that Cork set up, would have assumed the winning mantle.

The current sweeper fixation is a mutation of this perspective, with people back tugging at that Prada label, since last weekend, same as some hurlers tug at their county crest. Each to their own, in the phrase. You can never have too much hurling, too much talk about hurling.

Mind you, David Bowie is not judged on his last album, Blackstar (2016), whatever its considerable merits. Bowie is judged on the albums he produced, while at his peak, in the 1970s, not on the offering of the 1980s and ’90s.

Twenty-first century Kilkenny hurling will be judged on 2000 to 2015. To wit: Two senior titles in a row when successive titles got glossed as a unicorn ambition, four in a row, four in five seasons, 11 in 16 seasons.

Records, Munster records, fell by the new time. There are plenty individuals, however elegantly clad, still in shock.

Those Kilkenny achievements will endure, like Ziggy Stardust, as a touchstone of possibility long after the current ash plume settles.

There is a perspective out there in which Kilkenny are Dingos hurling, while the other stuff is Prada hurling


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