The Cats and the Catalans

THE Thurles man who was in Hill 16 is still shook after it, worse than when they took pavlova off the menu in Hayes.

“It reminded me of McGuigan in the Vegas car park in fifty degree heat when great things were expected.”

Like the Cyclone, Tipp might have prepared to feel the heat last Sunday, but did they quite appreciate just how hot it was going to get?

While Stevie Cruz relied on the desert sun, Kilkenny defied the leaking Jones’s Road skies to generate the stifling conditions themselves. In the end, champion’s pride hauled Tipp off the canvas to make a fight of it. But ultimately they were lucky just to get out of the ring alive.

It’s an afternoon they won’t forget, even when they have their own Vegas built.

Afterwards, when the throne had been vacated, hosed down and reinstalled in Nowlan Park, people talked mainly of two things.

First, the losers’ line. There was a fair bit of 20-20 hindsight grousing about Declan Ryan’s attempt to make Brendan Maher his very own sacrificial Jimmy Greaves.

And we detected a scoff or two as well at Tipp’s vaunted strength in depth. Would Cody have stayed looking at Eoin and Lar fumbling for the switch on their off-day? The likes of Shane Bourke found that piles of goals in places like Salthill weren’t the kind of currency you could exchange for trust even when the main men were spent.

But soon, inevitably, talk turned to the hunger. Or, to allow it its official title, The Savage Hunger. It’s a slightly troubling modern phenomenon that in what might be the most skilful game of them all, the spoils invariably go to the team deemed to be in possession of The Savage Hunger.

Up against The Savage Hunger, Tipp could only muster Fierce Hunger for the back-to-back. It wouldn’t do.

It makes you wonder what goes on in Cúl Camps these days. A few drills on the roll lift, a session on sideline cuts, then an afternoon spent reflecting on some terrible hurt in your tender past. Nobody goes home until they’re hungry enough to eat the hurley in their hand. Hoop and all.

If I had the velvet touch and sixpence pirouette of Henry, Tommy’s air traffic controller eye for flight paths, or JJ’s missed calling — as far as we know — as a pickpocket; it would probably gall me a little if all anybody talked about afterwards was The Savage Hunger — of our gruelling one-year fast from glory.

Maybe, just once, I’d like to earn a Celtic Cross then tell the assembled media that, “Ah sure, coming up here today, we very fairly ambivalent about it to be honest, but I suppose that bit of pure skill won it for us in the end.”

But that isn’t the Kilkenny way. They are as proud of the remarkable intensity they inject into the game as the breathtaking touches that brought Richie Hogan one of the great All-Ireland final goals.

In many ways they remind you of Barcelona, selflessly breaking stones when they don’t have the ball, clinically breaking hearts when they get it. The relentless ability to hunt the ball in packs is straight from the Guardiola playbook, even if we never seem to hear that “the Catalans are flying in training. There are big hits going in everywhere at the Joan Gamper Stadium. There’s Savage Hunger there.”

For some, of course, the hunger pangs are too sharp. Kilkenny’s ability to crowd what Kevin McStay would probably call the collision area has unnerved some folk. Some pine for summer days when stickmen roamed free and the hurling was aisy.

No doubt there is huge disparity in how games are refereed. Compare the “Hand on the back, ref!” zealousness with which most club games are policed with the light-touch regulation we see in Croke Park and it’s clear there are drastically different interpretations of what represents a foul in hurling.

As John McIntyre said on The Committee Room, some referees are afraid to blow the whistle because “eighty thousand people want a gladiatorial contest.”

Such lawlessness provides an ideal environment for Savage Hunger to be sated, but it could pose a problem for the game if teams decide they can’t match Kilkenny’s intensity and instead become a little cleverer in the way they draw fouls.

Might future opponents take another leaf from Barca’s book and start going to ground rather too easily?

Thankfully, there’s no sign of Tipp heading down that road yet. No need. By next year, the hunger should be savage.

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