I have to admire Brian Cody again this week with his perfectly times comments on the threat to hurling’s physicality dominating the midweek press conference ahead of Kilkenny’s Allianz League decider with Cork.
Much has been made of Kilkenny’s physical presence in recent years but I can assure you that the Cork lads will be able for that, and always were.
Cork are fine ball-players (as are Kilkenny, don’t forget) but they were always also able to mix it when required.
Lost is all this talk about the physicality of hurling is that fact that players love to the test of strength and endurance.
Going from my own experience as a coach and trainer, the night you open things up and have a full-blooded training game, that’s when the players are on the greatest high afterwards. And that’s only in training! They love the contact. They love the clash of the ash.
If that is what things are like between friends and colleagues, what must it be like to do that against the old enemy in front of packed stands?
That’s full-blooded, full-on hurling. What players don’t like is the sneaky-dirty stroke, and that’s where good refereeing comes into play. The greatest players of all time, the like of Christy Ring, Mick Mackey, Eddie Keher, Henry Shefflin, are and were all very physical players who were well able to look after themselves. Then you had the likes of Jimmy Doyle and DJ Carey who had the courage to take on whatever was thrown at them and not just survive, but thrive. Physicality is an integral part of hurling, always was, and hopefully always will be.
That’s the way it will in Thurles tomorrow. Look at the players taking the field. Eoin Cadogan, Brian Hogan, Michael Fennelly even young Darren Sweetnam are all strong physical figures able to give — and take — a blow.
What I’m looking forward to most is the clash between the Cork full-forward line and the Kilkenny full-back line. Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell don’t lack for anything in terms of strength or skill. Facing them are Paudie O’Sullivan, Patrick Horgan and Luke O’Farrell, who will relish pitting themselves against this trio. Expect a Battle Royale in this line.
Outside that you have the prospect of Niall McCarthy and Tommy Walsh going head to head. It wouldn’t be for the faint of heart!
At the other end of the field Eoin Larkin is a hugely physical player of great skill, but no matter who he comes up against – Cadogan, Shane O’Neill, William Egan – he’ll be matched for strength.
Colin Fennelly is a lovely hurler but let no-one tell me he’s not physical. Likewise Richie Hogan – think back to the belt he got last year before steadying to score his goal in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary. He’s not very big, but he is very powerful.
I’m expecting a tremendous game. We’re missing big players on both sides, and Donal Óg Cusack and Richie Power would grace any occasion – I’m sure all the supporters from both counties wish them both well, along of course with Henry Shefflin.
But you still have a host of top-class operators on both sides.
Kilkenny are injury-hit up front but they’ll be going to Thurles with serious intent, and any 15 players who put on that black-and-amber jersey will wear it with pride. Be sure that they’re well capable of playing for Kilkenny or they wouldn’t be in Nowlan Park every week for training.
A youngfella comes in at midfield the last day, Cillian Buckley, gets man-of-the-match, young Richie Doyle doing a good JJ impression at wing-back – that’s what I’m talking about.
Be sure those lads can hurl (I wonder too, is Brian Cody thinking of Conor Lehane when he put Doyle at wing-back? That will be some battle too!) Because of the players Kilkenny are missing, and because of what it means to Cork, I’m backing a win for the Rebels.
But I do want to see a battle andI don’t want to see anyonecomplain of it afterwards – we’re getting closer to championship,and that’s all part and parcel of hurling.
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