Straight from the horse’s mouth

If the great and the good of the GAA can pontificate on Cheltenham, then why can’t the cream of the country’s jockeys hold court on the Championship?

RUBY WALSH

Stable: Kildare

Apprentice days: I remember Larry Tompkins kicking 45s for Cork, he was like a machine. It stuck in my craw that he left Kildare and Cork had him, although my father didn’t seem to mind! My grandparents were from Kerry, so there was always a lot of talk about Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane and Mikey Sheehy.

Gold Cup: Kildare winning that first Leinster title under Micko in 1998 and going on to reach the All-Ireland.

Devon Loch moment: It had to be that All-Ireland final. It was great to get there and be dressed in white, but it was a case of so near and yet so far away. When Dermot Earley soloed through and scored that goal in the first half… it’s an awful pity the game didn’t end at half-time. Earley scored the goal in ’98 and he was the missing link in 2011 and the end of 2010. The last two years Kildare have been very unlucky with injuries and referees’ decisions but you need a bit of luck to win anything.

Stewards’ Enquiry: The off-the-ball stuff annoys me, and the penalty structures within the GAA. If you’re sent off in the championship, it should be an automatic three-match ban, for the county, in the championship. This ticking, booking and then sending off… how many chances do you want? It’s difficult for referees at times but they are far too lenient. It’s a culture that needs to be changed. They should start it from underage and need to be strong enough to stick with it.

Each way chance: Kildare can win. Leinster is there but I’d be aiming for the All-Ireland. They have a strong, fit, hungry team. I think Kieran McGeeney is a brilliant manager, a good motivator. There doesn’t look to be a stand-out team and they’ve as good a chance as anyone. When you chase something a long time and you get it, the hunger just might not be as strong after and that might catch Dublin. And even at that, they’re good but they’re not a Kerry four-in-a-row team. They’re not Tyrone or Armagh at their best either.

Winner Alright: People won’t like this, but if you don’t lose you have a chance and Donegal are set up not to lose. You can call it ugly, you can call it what you like but it’s about results in the end. I love hurling, it’s a great game and it’s hard to see beyond Kilkenny. I don’t know what Brian Cody does but he’s a magician.

ALAN CROWE

Stable: Tipperary

Apprentice Days: I played underage but my first memories of Tipp come from when they won the All-Ireland in 1991 and Bobby Ryan was captain. They brought the cup around the schools and we all had photos taken. They were real heroes. It was unbelievable to be so close to the likes of Bobby, Nicky English and Pat Fox.

Gold Cup: Beating Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland in 2010. They were going for the five-in-a-row and everyone thought that they’d do it. There’s huge rivalry between the two counties and it’s the biggest one for us now. It used to be Cork and still is when it comes to Munster. But Kilkenny are the top dogs now so it was great to win that one.

Devon Loch moment: Definitely last year. I was in Australia for a jockeys’ challenge. I was watching it in the pub and we were beaten after 20 minutes. Kilkenny were just the better team. In hindsight the signs were there. Tipp had struggled through the semi-final against Dublin but people thought they’d lift it for the final. They couldn’t do it.

Stewards’ Enquiry: I just think the players should be looked after better. They put too much time and effort into it for what they’re getting out of it.

Each way chance: I’d say the target is to win a Munster championship and reach the All-Ireland final. I think we are a match for any team but Kilkenny are just that step ahead.

Winner Alright: It will be very hard to beat Kilkenny. I thought Cork would give them a game in the league final but it doesn’t look like there’s anyone to touch them.

KEN WHELAN

Stable: Waterford

Apprentice days: A cousin of mine Pat Lineen, who was a guard in Thurles, brought me to all the Waterford games when I was young. I have great memories of going to games in Cork and crossing the Lee on a boat. You’d be about three inches from the water because there’d be about 30 people on this little thing meant to take nine or 10. I remember one day going to a game against Tipp down there and the boat in front of us turned over.

I played Tony Forrestal and U16 for Waterford, I won Munster Colleges’ and Féile with Lismore. I loved hurling and I loved Waterford and that’s the same now. I used to go into the matches with this huge flag and people would be giving out that they couldn’t see, but the way Waterford were in those days, they might have been better off.

Gold Cup: Winning Munster in 2002 for the first time in 39 years. I have been living in Tipperary since I’m 15 when I went up to work first for Tommy Stack. So for Waterford-Tipp games, a group of us used to always go together, until I started bringing my own young lad.

Myself and John O’Grady started this thing we still do, whereby the loser had to wear the winning team’s jersey for the rest of the day. I enjoyed making him put on the Waterford jersey that day. I worked for Pat Fox in his pub for a good while and I made him stay until the presentation was over. It was great craic.

Devon Loch moment: I suppose the All-Ireland final was the hardest day of all. We knew there was little chance of winning but like anything, the closer you get to it, the more hope you get. What got to me was people leaving early. I’d say John Mullane, Ken McGrath and Tony Browne would have given anything to leave at half-time so it was only right to stay with them. I remember getting hammered by Cork in the 1982 and 1983 Munster finals but they didn’t hurt as badly.

Stewards’ Enquiry: I played a lot of football too with Lismore, although I always preferred hurling, and I think they should bring back taking the free kick off the ground. It’s more of an art.

Each way chance: My brother-in-law, Sean Cullinane is a selector. I’m wrecking his head ringing him a couple of times a week to find out how things are going. It’s hard to see us winning this year though. It’s a rebuilding job. We’ve relied on the same four or five forwards for 10 years and Pauric Mahony is injured now. When the big day comes, they’ll give their all and you can ask no more.

Winner Alright: After the Kilkenny display in the league final, I don’t know what to say about them anymore. It’s hard to see them being beaten now.

TOM DOYLE

Stable: Kilkenny

Apprentice days: I am from Inistioge, the home of Eddie Keher, who was arguably the greatest hurler of all time. As soon as I could walk I was hurling, the same as everyone in Kilkenny. My earliest memories come in the mid-to-late 80s when the heroes were the Fennellys — Kevin, Liam and Ger.

Gold Cup: To do the four-in-a-row was magnificent. The current team are an amazing bunch of players, the way they keep going out, performing and producing such high standards. They deserved that.

Devon Loch moment: Losing to Tipp when they we going for the five-in-a-row. In Kilkenny though, while people didn’t like the defeat, because those players have given so much, we were more disappointed for them.

Stewards’ Enquiry: I think the GAA should look at the ticket prices, especially for kids. They’re gone very expensive. If I just look at Kilkenny, every child in the county has brilliant memories of going to matches. But it’s very difficult for families now. I’d say if you had three kids and two adults going up from Kilkenny to the All-Ireland, took in the travel, having something to eat, you’d have no change out of €600/€700.

Each way chance: They look very good after the league final. Kilkenny have unearthed a few young hurlers again in Cillian Buckley and Richie Doyle. They seem to be going very well.

Winner Alright: Cork are a coming team but they’re not going to reach the standard this year. Kilkenny are the ones to beat. Tipperary will be the danger once again.

DAVY RUSSELL

Stable: Cork

Apprentice days: Hurling would always have been the big one. John Fenton used to deliver oil to the garage that my father owned. I remember Teddy McCarthy and how high he used to go to field the ball in both codes. And Ger Cunningham was a brilliant keeper, probably as good as Cork have had. He could send a puck-out as far as the opposition full-back line.

Gold Cup: When Cork did the double in 1990. Denis Walsh was a St Catherine’s man so it brought it that bit closer to us in Youghal. I’d know Denis well. He was on both the teams that won the Munster titles, although he just missed out on the football All-Ireland.

Devon Loch moment: The 2004 Munster hurling final when Waterford won. Cork went on to win the All-Ireland but at that time, after losing that match, it was very disappointing.

Stewards’ Enquiry: I think the county pitches around the country should be getting a lot more games. I know Thurles had the hurling league final but they should look at bringing more games to the likes of Portlaoise, to help communities by bringing crowds into them, giving more people away from Dublin a chance to see the games and having a better atmosphere at the games. They had the two football league finals in Croke Park and it was dead. It’s too big for 15,000 or 20,000 people.

Your prospects: It’s great that JBM has blooded some new players. It looks like they’re going to be competitive. People are saying that it will do them no harm to get the hiding they got against Kilkenny but I wouldn’t go along with that. It can’t be good for any young player. There’s no doubt they have the hurling but I’d be just worried about the scar that beating is going to leave on them.

The footballers are going great after winning another league and they’re getting lads back from injuries. They’re the team to beat.

Winner Alright: I don’t want to be too cocky but I’ve no doubt Cork are the best football team out there. I see Nicholas Murphy coming back and getting 10 minutes and Daniel Goulding getting 15 minutes. It’s great to have them back. As long as they steer clear of the injuries, they should win.

In hurling, Kilkenny aren’t unbeatable but whoever beats them will win it. You’d have to go with them to do it again.


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