Cats napping?

BACK a couple of years ago, when that ‘If Teams Were a Pop Star/Item of Clothing/Car’ concept beloved of newspaper sports sections was at its height, someone — it might even have been yours truly — declared that if Kilkenny were a film character they’d be The Terminator.

You know, that grim, remorseless Schwarzenegger alter ego. An inhuman killing machine, tooled up to the eyeballs with hi-tech firepower. Implacable, indestructible, never liable to let emotion get in the way of business and always looking ahead to the next job.

“I’ll be back” indeed.

Six days ago Brian Cody’s side once more resembled a character from the Terminator franchise. Thing is, this time it wasn’t Arnie they looked like but the baddie from the second Terminator film. The cyborg. Equally deadly, equally relentless, can change shape to boot. But Arnie overcomes him in the end and yer man dies horribly, thrashing and flailing about as he gets his comeuppance.

Remind you of a certain team at Croke Park last Sunday?

In any other circumstances Dublin would have been the only story this week. In the event they were the main story but categorically not the only story.

If it was a historically great day for the winners, it was a historically wretched day for the losers, and not only because of the unflattering nature of the stats (12-point defeat, one point from play, etc etc). Kilkenny embarrassed themselves in the first-half, which was bad enough. In doing so they brought the striped jersey into disrepute, an infinitely graver sin.

We mentioned here last week about the way Brian Cody looks into his heart every autumn before deciding whether he’ll return for another spin on the merry-go-round. Far from autumn though it is yet, it’ll be a surprise if he hasn’t spent the past few days similarly deep in thought, wondering how in the name of God he sent out a team that (a) performed as abjectly as his boys did and (b) might well have had 12 men coming out for the second-half.

Their sheer crankiness was the staggering part of it.

Whatever mild provocation Eoin Larkin, Richie Hogan and John Dalton may have received was precisely that. Mild. Harmless, minor, irrelevant. At their implacable, Terminatoresque best three years ago Kilkenny’s response to any pulling or dragging would have been to turn, walk off and by way of response proceed to rattle in an unanswered 1-4 in the next six minutes.

Thirty-two months separated the 3-30 they hit in the 2008 All Ireland final from the 1-7 they hit last Sunday. Sic transit Gloria Gaynor.

The one consolation for them, and it was a bigger consolation than may at first glance have appeared, was the sheer starkness of the x-ray yielded by Dublin’s full-cavity examination. There were no ifs, no buts, no clouded areas, no need to seek a second opinion. Cody knew — he’d even gone as far as saying it — that Kilkenny hadn’t hurled well despite topping Division 1 but he’d rightly taken comfort from the fact that the end justified the means.

Losing as heavily as Kilkenny did was painful, but the pain will pass. Losing narrowly, or even winning with the XV they sent out, would have had far more serious long-term ramifications. And that XV and its amendments: Matthew Ruth, a career corner-forward, leading the attack? Cha Fitzpatrick at wing-forward? No substitution made up front until the 57th minute? And as many goal-keeping subs on the bench as subs for the forwards?

Granted, obviously the injuries reduced Cody’s room for manoeuvre. And Eddie Brennan’s form had been in visible decline since the second-half of the 2009 All Ireland final, not that that’s anything a man who has been on the road as long as he has, need apologise for.

What was required last Sunday was for the next Eddie Brennan to step forward and announce himself. Ominously for the county’s short- to mid-term prospects, nothing of the sort happened. Therein lies the real worry.

TJ Reid and Richie Hogan have failed to kick on the way it was hoped they would, underlining the truism that while it is one thing to be able to play one’s part on a winning team it is quite another to be able to drive a losing team forward and make the difference between victory and defeat. It’s the old story. Too many Indians, not enough chiefs. Unfortunately for Kilkenny, there’s only one Big Chief Henry.

Jackie Tyrrell didn’t leave a tooth in it during the week when he anatomised the losers’ faults in all their gory detail and at considerable, unforgiving length. It was by a distance the most impressive performance by a Kilkenny player in the past seven days and it may serve as the first step on the road to recovery.

One can’t finish a column about the events of last Sunday without paying due credit to the winners. Not to overdo the movie theme or anything, but someone someday will surely make a film called There’s Something About Daly.

And so another couple of ingredients are added to a championship pot that was already simmering nicely. As prospective headline-grabbing stories of the summer go we’re spoiled for choice.

Tipperary’s bid to retain the McCarthy Cup for the first time in half a century. The potential second coming of Joe Canning (remember him?). A Leinster championship that for the first time since the late 1990s is shaping up to be more interesting and competitive than its Munster counterpart. Dublin and whether last Sunday will be the start of something big or the end of it. And now, perhaps the most fascinating prospect of them all, Kilkenny: the horrible slow-motion death of hurling’s greatest team ever, thrashing and flailing about before our eyes?


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