That’s the view of leading forward Eddie Brennan, one of the team’s most prolific goal-scorers of recent times and a key contributor in general play to the Cats’ 14th league title success against Tipperary in Thurles on Sunday.
Brennan made his comments in the context of the possible threat from Tipperary in the upcoming championship, commenting that while Liam Sheedy’s team is being talked about as the one ‘best equipped’ to take the Liam MacCarthy Cup from them, the reality is that any team is capable of managing it.
“If any team goes out on any given day and hurls and approaches a match the same as Tipp did, then they are capable of doing that. We know ourselves that if we go into any match not respecting opposition then we are in big bother. That’s one quality about this team – we have the utmost respect for opposition. If we didn’t, if we had this idea that we were unbeatable, then we’d be blown out the gate. And that’s not just talking the talk – that is the real fact.’’
The Portlaoise-based Garda also recognises that Tipp can call on the like of Conor O’Mahony and Eoin Kelly, still their highest rated forward and kept out by a back problem. “In fairness they are a very good side. They are building, but it’s like everything else, success just doesn’t happen overnight. But, you have to say they are moving in the right direction. They are serious opposition.’’
Within the Kilkenny squad the ‘first pressure’ starts from within – the challenge to be ‘part of the match day.’ And, he accepts that the pressure for places is certain to grow after performances from some of the fringe players on Sunday.
From that perspective, Brennan agreed that their victory over Tipp told a lot about the character in the squad. “A lot of our fringe players really stepped up and proved they have what it takes. In fairness, Richie Hogan showed what he’s been promising to do and it augurs well for him in the future. Aidan Fogarty was magnificent, Michael Grace got his first taste of championship-style hurling and he gave it his all and the same with Michael Rice.
“Every team looks back over the years. Maybe they have won an All-Ireland or a League and they and see the missed opportunities. That is the one thing Brian has drummed into us at the moment – that you have a loan of the jersey and it’s a case of maybe making the most of it.’’
The game also showed that the Tipp/Kilkenny rivalry is now back with a lot of bite. “We know Tipperary long enough and that they have right good hurlers. If we had gone up there any way off the pace or not expecting the type of game we got, they would have blown us out of the park. If the shoe was on the other foot, if they had beaten us like that (in Nowlan Park) I’m sure we would have been fired up for it too. Tipp being Tipp, you expect nothing else.
“There’s no point in saying otherwise, the doubts were probably there coming towards the end of the match. But once it got to extra time I just felt supremely confident. You could see that the Tipp lads were kind of out on their feet after giving it all. I think our bit of fitness got us home in the end and it was more the character and the spirit got us there. We knew it was going to be a massive battle and we got exactly what we expected.’’
Agreeing that the forced withdrawal of Brian Hogan (with a broken collar bone) had an upsetting effect on the defence for a while, Brennan said that the Kilkenny forwards had to accept a share of the responsibility for not fighting for possession more aggressively.
“I think we were allowing the Tipp backs to put out defence under pressure. Backs being backs they will deal with the pressure but there is only so long they can keep beating the ball out. Tipp were running at them in droves and they got the few breaks around the goal,’’ he added.
“You were beginning to wonder if this was going to be one of those days when Brian got injured. He has been such an integral part of the backs, but you won’t get a more natural replacement than John Tennyson.
“It was a battle of wills and physically it had everything. These are the matches you test yourselves on – what could happen to you in championship if you are not prepared. It was great to be made fight every step of the way and to come back and pull the win out of the bag. A match like that in Thurles, on a hot day – there’s no better way to see what we have in the tank.’’