THE most nationally famous referee in Kilkenny hurling is Brian Cody, the man in the middle for the increasingly legendary Nowlan Park training sessions. But, isn’t there a lesson here?
In all the speculation about what makes this Kilkenny team as great as it is, have we been overlooking this very critical element, the refereeing? Not a single Kilkenny whistler in the top 10 chosen for this year’s championship.
Why is that? Could it be the philosophy in Kilkenny hurling is a bit too raw for the delicate mandarins who rule the roost in Croke Park? Certainly wing-back JJ Delaney enjoys the freedom offered inside his own county, and inside Nowlan Park especially, to play the game the Kilkenny way – hard, uncompromising.
“He (Cody) doesn’t blow the whistle half the time – it’s great being a back down there. !It’s tough, but if you go to any club match in Kilkenny it’d be as tough as that. If you go soft on a lad (in training) he’ll get used to that and when he gets hit in a match he’ll be wondering ‘what the f**k’s going on here?’”
So, that’s Brian Cody in training, but do the same rules apply in club matches in Kilkenny, a little less strict than in other counties? “I wouldn’t really see that many club matches in other counties – all I know is that in Kilkenny you’d be giving as much as you’re getting, I guarantee you that.”
It does make them tougher, no question about that, and you don’t see Kilkenny hurlers flinging themselves to the ground under the tackle, or roaring out in pretended pain with every hard pull, trying to win the soft free. Ruthless, they’ve been called, and ruthless they are.
Not that they don’t feel sympathy, empathy even, for those who are injured; it’s simply that the show must go on, and no individual anchors the group. Few understand this simple truth better than JJ, who was himself struck down with the same kind of cruciate injury that is now dogging Henry, just before the All-Ireland final of 2006, the start of this current phenomenal run.
“In 2006 it was unfortunate for myself but someone else took the opportunity, grabbed it with both hands. That’s sport. We’re 15 Kilkenny people that will be going out, named and started on the day.”
He missed that one, but JJ is one of those who has been there almost since the beginning of this great team – didn’t see all this success coming, however. “Jesus no, I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself in to.
“Early in 2001 I was like a couple of the Tipp lads (now) where I was young, didn’t really realise what was going on. That first year we kind of got a bit of a landing (Tipp’s last All-Ireland final win, beat Galway who beat Kilkenny in the semi-final), but we came back and won in 2002, 2003, then we were brought back down to earth in 2004, 2005 (two Cork wins).
“Since then we’ve kind of kicked on a bit – we’re just very, very lucky with the group of players that came. There’s a conveyor belt at the moment, and we’re kind of looking over our shoulder now, that’s the problem. Whereas at the start of it, you were one of the young lads, you didn’t have a care in the world, now you’re kind of looking at these lads coming in that are looking to take your place.
“That’s the beauty of sport. I have another couple of years, hopefully, but Kilkenny will stay going with or without me, it makes no difference. You just have to make the most of your career while you can, and that’s why we’re looking forward to Sunday.”
And that’s what drives Kilkenny, that ruthlessness – win as much as you can, while you can.
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