Kilkenny’s back to back league defeats have observers wondering if the end of an era has dawned. Cork’s loss to Dublin after an opening win to Clare has those same observers diagnosing a recurrent case of inconsistency.
Cats first. Nickey Brennan, former President of the GAA and former teammate of Brian Cody, points out how close Kilkenny were to an opening day win.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a panic, it’s not been so much losing the matches - there was a decent display against Waterford, for instance.
“I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact the better team won that day, but at the same time Kilkenny were within a nose of getting over the line. It could easily have happened, even though that wouldn’t have been a fair reflection of the game overall.
“Against Clare they were very flat. A lot will depend on tomorrow. People will expect Kilkenny to step up big-time, and if that doesn’t happen then maybe people will start getting concerned.”
Former Cork star Tom Kenny, who faced Kilkenny often enough, agrees with Brennan about the Waterford game.
“That’s true, they were close to a win. The one thing about Kilkenny teams over the years was they knew how Brian Cody wanted them to play. The newer players are getting used to what he wants from them, and that takes time.
“If that time involves sacrificing a couple of league games, so be it. A lot of the players from the days of their pomp are gone, and I know Eoin Larkin was on Twitter about it, but that’s probably frustration from knowing what players have done over the years for Kilkenny.
“It’s probably going to take time for the new players to bed into the system that they have, but even if it’s unfair to compare those players to what they had in the early 2000s, every Kilkenny team from now on is going to be compared to those players.
“Are they gone? No. They’ve lost two league games, but you’d think they’d still be able to win a league game, or two, and make a relegation play-off.
“And a Leinster final as well, come to that, and then it’s 50-50. You could see them playing in September again this year.”
Brennan echoes that point: “Kilkenny have been unfortunate to have injuries to some senior players at a time when they’re trying to blood new players, and at a time they’re bringing in more new players than usual. I know other counties go through that process too, but as a transition period it can be difficult.
“In fairness to Brian (Cody), when it comes to the league he has to take some gambles, if you want to use that term, and to bring young lads into an environment which may be intimidating for them - more intimidating than in many counties, because they’re being brought in to replace the best players who’ve gone before them for their county. It’s an unreal and an unfair expectation but Kilkenny have been spoiled for the last 10-15 years.
“Yes, there have been blips along the way, but people are realistic enough to realise we’ve come through an incredible era, with wonderful players, some of the best in hurling’s history have come through the system and are now retired.
“I think it might not be manifested publicly, because in Kilkenny the supporters are a demanding lot, but any rational person would surely say ‘God almighty, this couldn’t continue’.
“The best teams in every sport have glory days and quieter days - Kilkenny may be going through it now, and there might be surprise it hasn’t happened before now, but it may not be certain that it is happening now either.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far it looks like there’s work to be done, but nothing that hasn’t been done before.” Which brings us to Kilkenny’s opponents tomorrow.
“Cork have been off the radar for a while but what they need is consistency,” says Brennan.
“To me they’ll have to get stronger defensively, because you can build on a strong defence. There’s potential in the Cork attack but they need to get stronger at the other end of the field.”
Kenny also points to consistency as ‘the big challenge’ for his old teammates. “The fact Dublin got such a hammering the previous day, they were always going to bring something to the table, and Cork didn’t seem able to respond.
“Maybe it’s a case of being too high after one game (Clare) and too low after another (Dublin), but Cork have a lot of young players coming through who may need another year or two before becoming serious contenders.
“Cork need leadership. Defence and midfield were put under pressure the last day with some puck-outs going astray when going to the half-forward line might are a better option. If management nailed down a place for the likes of Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane and said ‘this is your position, make it your own’, that would help. They have huge potential.
“But along with that players have to stand up and say ‘I’ll take ownership of this and drive it on the way Joe Deane or Ben O’Connor or Niall McCarthy did, and become a focal point.’
“The players themselves have to do that.”