Barry finds his Village voice

James Stephens captain Peter Barry is as resolute off the field as on it, as Diarmuid O’Flynn found out PETER BARRY is normally notoriously gun-shy, when faced with a journalist’s micro-recorder.

In fact, the Kilkenny panel in general has been like that for several seasons, dating back to 1998, when they won the first of six Leinster titles in succession, three All-Irelands.

Given his high profile within the team during those years however, Barry's reticence stood out.

For some reason, his reluctance to speak didn't extend to radio or television and within minutes of a big game, win or lose, he would hold court with any of a dozen assorted radio gurus. Faced with a print journalist however, Peter would give his trademark wide grin, hold up his hand, and demur.

Today, though Peter gave us a bit more. Not a lot, we're not talking Gavin Henson here. But enough.

"A good few of our lads have played in Croke Park, but it was funny watching them when we were up for a training session lads were coming in, having a good look at it, a run around. It's a big day out, everyone is delighted to be there; the way it is, we'll just take it as it comes."

For such a powerful and recognised club, and player, today has been a long time coming for James Stephens and for Peter Barry. In fact, were it not for the fact that the sporting gods have been on their side during the campaign, they wouldn't be here now.

James Stephens were five points behind heading into injury-time in the Kilkenny county semi-final and scored two late goals to tie it up and earn a replay miracle number one.

The 'Village' were two points ahead in the dying moments of the county final, facing a fourth DJ Carey 20-metre free in 10 minutes, the first three of which he had already goaled. But DJ's shot screamed inches over the bar miracle number two.

In the Leinster final against UCD, packed with inter-county players, two decisions went against the students and James Stephens won by a point.

Drama? John B Keane couldn't write it.

"People talk about James Stephens having been in All-Ireland finals, county finals, but it's been 23 years; this is our first time, this is a brand new team. This is a big club, a traditional club, this was just reward for all the years of dedication put in by the officers of the club, the members etc.

"When you win an All-Ireland with Kilkenny, it's a dream come true, but some of us were playing for 12, 14 years with James Stephens without ever winning anything.

"But winning a senior hurling final was brilliant, something that will live long in the memories of everyone involved with the team and the club that day.

"To be in Croke Park on Paddy's Day is beyond our wildest dreams. We're taking it step by step, we're now an hour away from it, and we'll go hell for leather and give it everything we've got."

Having come so close over the last five or six years especially, did he ever get the impression that it was just never going to happen?

"I got that impression years ago," he laughs.

"We contested two semi-finals in the last couple of years and lost both by a point. This year, in the semi-final, we were five points down with a couple of minutes to go. We were walking back out (the field) after Brian Dowling had put the last ball over the bar for O'Loughlin's, and we were saying, 'come on, we can still do it, there's a couple of minutes left'. Deep down however, I don't think we believed it, but we got two fortunate goals, lived to fight another day, got through to the final, survived that, and we're here now."

He added: "The way the Kilkenny championship is, it certainly won't come around every year, and I think they know that. No one had put back-to-back titles in Kilkenny since 1989/90, but even looking at the All-Ireland club final scene, a Kilkenny team contested only one All-Ireland final since Glenmore won it in '91, and that was Graigue-Ballycallan.

"It's very hard to win in Kilkenny, but once you do, you don't know what will happen."

Getting back to Croke Park, Barry knows the place well from the last 10 years with Kilkenny.

"Everyone knows that your adrenaline goes up a few per cent at Croker, you'll automatically do things you wouldn't otherwise do. No matter what you're playing there, you have to step up to the plate. All our lads are more than aware of that, they've been there enough times, either playing or watching teams. They know what Croke Park is, they'll play as best they can."

For the last few years, Peter has plied his wares on the inter-county stage at centre-back, for Kilkenny. For James Stephens however, in this game, he will be on the wing, where he won a couple of All Star awards in an earlier blossoming with the Cats.

"The way I ended up there, we played O'Loughlin's in the semi-final, changed the team around to suit them, and maybe it suits the way we play. Phillip (Larkin) had a blinder at centre-back, so we kept it as it was, though we've swapped over at times in every match since."

So he could yet that bump into Joe Rabbitte, the Athenry play-maker, out there?

"Maybe, if he moves across to my wing. It depends, we just play our own positions, and whatever happens, happens."

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