Science of silence

A little insight into how Kilkenny deal with media requests.

Via a phone call or email, one places a request with selector Martin Fogarty. By now, it goes without saying younger players are off limits so you put forward a name or two of the more senior members of the squad.

He will contact the players and text the journalist back, whether they are available or not. More often than not, they will be and their mobile numbers will be supplied.

What the writer then gets from the stripey men is a lot of talking with little being said but that’s the way it’s been (although a couple of journalists recently bemoaned that access had become even more limited).

“The main reason for the system is to have some control over it,” says James Ryall, who retired at the end of 2010. “The last thing you want is something being said with the best intentions and being interpreted another way. A headline lobbed into a paper a few days before it.

“There’s no arrogance in the Kilkenny camp but you don’t want everyone getting the wrong impression.”

As vice-chairman of the Kilkenny Supporters Club, legend Eddie Keher has been on a few team holidays. They are celebrations but they are meetings too.

“The All-Ireland was done and dusted and they were already thinking of the challenges ahead. I was talking to them after the Cork match (Division 1 final) recently at a Garda celebration for Eddie Brennan in Langtons.

“The league was totally packaged away and they were already focused on the championship. You have to give Brian Cody credit for that.”

Tipperary’s downfall last year can hardly be traced to January but even though it had been 10 years a-coming, the Liam MacCarthy Cup was still doing rounds in February.

As Brendan Cummins prophetically said in 2009: “In Cork and Kilkenny they win one, January comes and they think, ‘We’re no longer All Ireland champions’. Not in Tipperary. It’s a culture thing.”

Ryall assures you Cody “has as good a craic as anyone, within reason”. But the operative words are ‘within reason’.

John Mulhall’s “Tipperary póg mo thóin” song at last September’s homecoming wasn’t exactly Carlos Tevez holding up a ‘Fergie RIP’ banner but it was frowned upon. One player privately admitted later it was fodder for Tipperary this year. It’s not the Kilkenny way.

“Not on stage, no,” laughs Ryall. “John Mulhall is just a unique type of lad. It wasn’t drink that did that. Seriously though, lads would generally keep themselves under wraps.”

It’s the Black and Amber code.

Earlier this year, a 2011 first team member asked a management official the identity of the player who would be vying with him for his role. In the next training game, he was played completely out of position.

Lesson learned.

“No Kilkenny player walks down a street with an entourage beside him giving him high fives,” insists Ryall. “I met Henry (Shefflin) two or three months ago in a supermarket. He was going to the gym later but he had an auld hat on him and had himself nearly disguised.

“There was no such thing as Henry walking into SuperValu and wearing his No10 jersey. He just wanted to get in and get out.

“A young lad joins that squad now and he sees the way lads like Tommy Walsh carry themselves and do what he does automatically. They also know the way not to go and it turns into a cycle. When I joined in 2002, we won an All-Ireland and the young lads saw how (DJ) Carey carried himself and won again in ‘03.

“In ‘03, the likes of Andy Comerford portrayed themselves well and then when we won again in ‘06, we were the older boys and passed on the things we learned.”

The story of Shefflin’s attempts of gaining some anonymity is similar to that of Tomás Ó Sé who regularly pulls down a cap over his brow to keep himself in relative incognito.

Keher has long drawn comparisons between how Kilkenny and Kerry have both been mindful of walking easy when the jug is full.

“There was a mutual understanding and great relations between us even though we played a different game. When a team has an amount of success, it’s easier for that team to win again than one who wins an All-Ireland out of the blue or after a long time. Kerry and Kilkenny players hold themselves well.”

There’s the status of being a Kilkenny hurler too. It earns respect — and admirers from an early age.

As Keher says: “Six or seven weeks ago, I was talking to a man from outside Kilkenny and he couldn’t get over the number of boys chatting up girls in the city with hurls in their hands. The boys were passing the ball about to one another and talking to the girls. They were impressing them.”

And there’s the competition too. Closest rivals Tipperary could hardly match them for that.

“There’s only one guarantee when it comes to Cody and his team,” says Ryall. “Fifteen jerseys, one to 15, will go out. Whoever fills the jersey fills them. I’d be fairly certain Cody right now has a blank sheet in front of him for the Leinster semi-final — and he’s excited about it.”

Blank sheets. Slates cleaned. The way it always seems to have been.


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