That old saying about absence and what it does for the heart sprang to mind yesterday evening as members of Kilkenny’s backroom staff stood underneath the Hogan Stand having their pictures taken with the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
It isn’t so long since snaps of Liam MacCarthy itself, standing unattended amidst the din of some festival or other in the Marble City, were doing the rounds such was the frequency with which the game’s most prized possession resided in the south-east.
In every other way, this felt like old times.
For 13 of the 14 seasons between 1998 and 2011, Leinster final day promised predictability. More often than not, that is exactly what came to pass and it dribbled away devoid of the intensity that makes hurling what it is supposed to be.
Yesterday was like that. A balloon starved of air. A soufflé that failed to rise. Only briefly, when Dublin engineered two goal chances at the start of the fourth quarter, did you dare think there might be bang to have for your buck.
Just the way Kilkenny would like it.
“Obviously very happy to have won the game,” said Brian Cody. “It was a convincing margin in the end, but we were tested and tested several times in the game. We got a nice few points early, but the loss of a goal pulled them back.
“But it was serious hurling periods in the second half. We were under lots of pressure, but we defended very strongly, our work rate was very strong and we weathered the storm and finished strongly.”
Cody reeled off all the right words when asked about what it meant to reclaim their birthright from the Hogan Stand afterwards, but even that was backed up with an allusion to the day’s real worth: a place in the All-Ireland semi-final.
He was right about finishing strongly. Kilkenny scored the last seven points, starving Dublin of scores from the 48th minute on and restricting them to just three points in that second-half.
Clinical, right? Not quite. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest the Kilkenny of old would have smothered the life from this game, against an opponent stuck two gears below its best, long before it happened on this occasion.
Five times, at least, Dublin defenders were caught attempting to manoeuvre the sliotar out of their zone by way of a convoluted geometric pattern, but the lurking Kilkenny forwards never punished them fully.
The game drifted by without a score between the 48th and 58th minutes, but it could well have been the pivotal spell on which everything turned given the goal chances that fell to Jack McCaffrey and Colm Cronin.
Score one of those and Dublin would have trailed by two points. Score two and, well, who knows? It seemed natural, then, to ask Cody afterwards if this was a Kilkenny side operating at its peak of old.
“Is this not our peak? I don’t see years as peak years. A peak year is when you win an All-Ireland final and, regardless what people think, that is the objective for everyone.
“We were a long way from it last year and it’s a huge challenge and we are just working away diligently. We have good competition for places, good fluency regards which team we put out.”
Whatever happens now, their annus horribilis of 2013 is behind them. The qualifiers, with its vagaries and its potentially hazardous road trips are someone else’s concern again.
Just like old times.
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