Martin Fogarty stepped down as a Kilkenny selector this year after helping to bring six All-Ireland senior titles back to the Marble City. Going to games has been different, depending on who’s playing.
“You’re watching games as though you’re still involved. If it’s another team that’s not the case, but with Kilkenny, though, your eye is still trying to pick stuff out. To pick out danger, put it that way.”
Take the recent league final. True to form, Fogarty saw the background to Kilkenny’s dramatic late win.
“In general I thought the game was pretty good, pretty intense.
“There wasn’t much room in it and Kilkenny played well but I think they’re not playing near their best — and you wouldn’t want them to be. There’s more in them if they can get it out of them, the same for Tipp.
“It was great for Kilkenny to get to the final because they were trying to look at so many players in the league, so winning the final was a bonus.
“It’s tricky — sometimes you have to try to give lads game time, and there are all sorts of side issues — nobody likes losing games, there’s the threat of relegation, and there’s a financial aspect to it for the county boards, too.
“In fairness, in Kilkenny they would never have emphasised that, but it’s a small county and every euro counts.”
Sitting in the stands gives him perspective. Take the long-rumbling controversy about Anthony Nash’s close-in frees. Fogarty can put that in a broader context.
“The likes of Joe Canning, or Henry Shefflin, to take two, if they were hitting them from the line, or a yard or two inside it, they were connecting as hard.
“It looks, to the public, that this is a much harder shot now, but it’s much of a muchness, I think.”
The same with Clare’s All-Ireland win. Prowling the sideline for the Cats meant Fogarty saw that success in September is rarely straightforward.
“Whatever team wins, the public and the media will see things in them that maybe don’t exist.
“A lot of things have to go right for a team to win an All-Ireland — that was true for us, and it was true for Clare. Things must fall into place for you.
“To be fair to Clare, they got the openings and they took them, and they’re All-Ireland champions, but back along the line small things could have knocked them.
“Go back to the day against Wexford in Thurles, when they had a full-back on the ground hurt and Clare got a point or two while that happened — if those hadn’t been scored they’d have gone no further.
“Against Limerick, Seamus Hickey’s injury had a huge influence on that game and if he hadn’t been hurt Limerick might have advanced.
“In the first All-Ireland final game a Cork defender was shouting for a hurley at one stage but the hurley-carrier was on the far side of the field, and by the time he got the hurley in Clare had a point. All these things come together.
“Cork the same — against Dublin I thought if Ryan O’Dwyer hadn’t been wrongly sent off, I think Dublin would have advanced. I’d be as positive as I could be that Dublin were going to win that game — and no disrespect to Clare, I think Dublin would have beaten them in the final. What I’m saying is the same happened to us over the years. Someone carries the ball a bit further, or he’s not pulled for a free, and it makes a difference. Páidí Ó Sé, Lord rest him, used to say a grain of rice can tip the scales, and he was right.”
This year’s Munster championship reinforces his point.
“Take Waterford against Cork the first day. People say it was a big surprise. Why? They very nearly beat us last year on a day we were playing well — one small thing and they could have won, so I’d have rated them highly.
“You have to get the breaks. We’d have won All-Irelands and if you looked back, some of the games, particularly early in the campaigns, small things made a difference.
“In 2006 nobody rated Offaly, for instance. We rated them, though, and the game was hell for leather, with nothing in it after 45 minutes.
“Then we got a goal against the run of play and lifted the siege and we went on to win the All-Ireland. But if our players weren’t 100% focused on Offaly, we’d have lost that day.
“When a team wins an All-Ireland, people forget all those things that went their way in order to get them there in the first place.”
One of those things is injury at just the wrong time. Take Henry Shefflin’s stress fracture in the league final.
“Any team that loses a first-team player, you’re putting in a player who’s not as good,” says Fogarty.
“That can tip the scales, as I said earlier.
“In the year we lost the All-Ireland final to Tipperary we were without Brian Hogan. That’s no disrespect to John Tennyson, who did a fine job, but you’re talking about missing a top calibre player and you can’t replace like with like. ”