Apity the Semple Stadium authorities didn’t allow the Waterford hordes to swarm onto the field afterwards, as their Wexford counterparts had been able to do four weeks earlier. A pity for two reasons.
Firstly and most obviously, it was nothing less than they deserved or the occasion demanded. Fifty-eight years of hurt and all that. Secondly, a pitch invasion would have provided the neatest tailpiece possible to Kilkenny’s season, a brief campaign that finished the way it started.
For so many years they ruined the joy of others, time after time, coldly and unapologetically, a posse of professional hitmen who took unostentatious pride in their work and knew no other form of existence. Now here they were, for the second time in a month, victims of another county’s delirium, the butt of someone else’s punchline.
That said, it could have been worse for Kilkenny on Saturday. They might have won. They might have won and gone staggering on, an unhappy and bedraggled feline, to an All-Ireland quarter-final, delaying the inevitable. Fortunately Waterford did the decent thing. This was a mercy killing, nothing less.
The only surprise was it took Derek McGrath’s men till extra-time to finally pull the trigger. Ascribe it to the weight of history on their backs and a fear of winning, usually a much greater danger to a team than fear of losing. Had Tipperary or Cork or Galway been eight points up with 11 minutes left they’d have made sure to make it 12 points or more by the finish.
And so Kilkenny’s summer ends, giving birth to all manner of odd facts and figures. The earliest they’ve been out of the championship since 1996. The first time they haven’t been on RTÉ in the championship since Brian Cody, or possibly even Paddy Grace, was an altar boy. And an absolute corker from the GAA statistics whizz Leo McGough: the first time Kilkenny haven’t played on a Sunday in the championship since 1887.
By the stats shall ye know the stunning ineffectiveness of the county’s 2017 championship tilt. Here’s a sample.
One point from play in the opening 30 minutes on Saturday night, and not against a wind either. Eleven points at Wexford Park.
Ten points in the second half against a horribly limited Limerick with the wind. The quartet of TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Walter Walsh and Colin Fennelly – their four most experienced attackers, two of them former Hurlers of the Year — mustering an aggregate of 2-10 between them over the course of the three games. The dependency on Lester Ryan to come off the bench and hit two points against Limerick and three versus Waterford.
A couple of years ago the unearthly being on show on Saturday, firing points from out the field to bate the band, would have been Hogan or Reid. This being 2017, the unearthly being on show on Saturday, firing points from out the field to bate the band, was Austin Gleeson. Hogan? His form compromised by injury. Reid? Again required to do the work of two men up front.
Brian Cody will take a certain amount of solace from the late comeback, the surge that yielded an unanswered 1-5 and shrieked “Kilkenny!” Man gets tired, spirit it don’t. But it is the only consolation, give or take the pleasing impression made by Richie Leahy, he’ll take from the summer.
Could he have expected anything better? Did anyone on Noreside expect anything better? Last September’s defeat by Tipperary marked the long-delayed end of a cycle and rendered this season Year One of a new phase. Not a transitional phase. A complete reconstruction.
Every reconstruction job entails early setbacks, and Kilkenny have now won only two of their last six championship outings. Yet equally, and as a consequence of the rebuild, the important business in the county this year was always going to centre on the minor and under-21 teams making a better fist of things than recent seasons. To date they’ve at least managed that.
After the tumult, after the history-making, after yet another glorious instalment of Kilkenny and Waterford on a summer’s evening in Semple Stadium, the real issue is whether this was the bottom of Kilkenny’s cycle or whether they may get worse before the wheel turns and they rise again. An issue that will not be resolved for another 12 months or more.
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