So what if Kilkenny were beaten in the Leinster final by a Galway team that belied the underdog tag, says Tipperary captain Paul Curran.
He knows enough to expect another battle against the old foe on Sunday.
Sure, by his reckoning, didn’t the same thing happen to Tipperary in the 2010 Munster championship. Having gone to Páirc Uí Chaoimh with high expectations earlier, they were tossed about like a rag doll by a fired-up home side and sent homeward to Tipp to think again.
What happened? They regrouped, refocused, recovered and with Curran starring at full-back, went on to win that year’s All-Ireland.
Any talk then that Kilkenny are a beaten docket and on the way out, should, reckons Curran, be treated with the disdain it merits. Besides, and as we learned again on Sunday last in the way they clinically put Cork to the sword, that was a seriously good Galway team that beat Kilkenny.
“We had played Galway two or three weeks before that and they were really motoring. We played them on the Monday or the Tuesday after they had played Westmeath [Leinster quarter-final, big win for Galway]. We were fresh, they were tired and they still won the game.”
Not that Curran — anymore than most in the hurling world — expected to see Kilkenny so thoroughly dismantled by Galway. But as has been proven over and over again, in sport anything can happen.
“Was I surprised? Maybe. Kilkenny have never taken a beating like that. But I wouldn’t read too much into it. Some day they were going to get caught. You can’t stay switched on for that long, they’re not machines.”
Of far more pertinence to Tipperary this Sunday than that Leinster final is the fact, as with themselves two years ago, Kilkenny have since regrouped, refocused, recovered. In their All-Ireland quarter-final win they struggled initially with the very feisty challenge of Limerick — but then only a few months ago Tipperary suffered a scare of their own against the rejuvenated men from the Treaty county.
Ultimately, however, that became a comprehensive win for Kilkenny, one that impressed their neighbours across the provincial boundary.
“They beat Limerick by eight or nine points [4-16 to 1-16] and people still said Kilkenny aren’t playing too well but if you beat Limerick by that much, you can’t be playing too badly.
“They have gotten back JJ Delaney and Michael Fennelly, huge losses in the Leinster final. What can you say about Kilkenny? The record is there and I think they will go down as the best hurling team ever.”
Coming from where he does, the parish of Mullinahone, hard by the Kilkenny border and closer to Kilkenny city than many of that county’s own clubs, that’s generous praise indeed from Curran. It’s sincere praise also, not simply more plamás in the week of another championship meeting between the teams.
“Where I live it’s right on the border and we have hardcore Kilkenny guys. Even the manager of our club team, he’s a staunch Kilkenny man — Johnny Kennedy from Callan.
“He’s a real hurling man, doesn’t say anything and doesn’t have to, but you know by him. He just nods at you. He’d wish you the best of luck but behind it all he’s a Kilkenny man, and they never change!
“But Kilkenny are Kilkenny, the top team. If they see any bit of weakness they’ll go for it. [Brian] Cody is ruthless. The players have it as well. I would know a good few of them personally and they like to win. They don’t like to lose.”
Nobody does, of course, which in cold print makes that a very obvious statement. It’s the way it’s said though. This Kilkenny team does not like to lose. Ever. To anyone. Any game. And though that was all left unsaid, it was very much inferred.
“People seem to be making a big thing out of their defeat in the Leinster championship but that was always going to happen. We’re really expecting a massive battle. The last couple of years, it’s been very physical.
“Both of us play a similar style — you win your personal battle and let the ball in as fast as you can. That’s something I admire about Kilkenny.
“I like the way they play, I like the physical side of it.
“Munster hurling is very exciting and it might look better [than Leinster] but it’s not. Leinster hurling is little flicks, Croke Park is a different mindset and you need to be ready for that.”
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