Though it seems a lifetime ago now and maybe even a tad unbelievable, Brian Cody actually lost his first All Ireland SHC Final as Kilkenny manager in 1999. In possibly the worst such contest this writer can recall. Not that it mattered a jot to Cork. It doesn’t matter how you win once you win. Ask Seamus Darby!
Then there was Clare’s Eamonn Taaffe – come on, win the game and go off again. In more recent seasons, the standard of hurling has been so mesmeric there should be really no surprise what happens in matches anymore. Yet the weekend just gone by left a viewer spellbound again. By two contrasting epic games which have produced one mouthwatering outcome.
Now, when pondering the clash of Kilkenny and Waterford beforehand, the usual barometres for assessing local derbies were employed. In other words, the form book can go out the window as these things generally take on lives of their own. Before the ball was thrown in on this one my inclination was that Kilkenny’s alacrity in scoring goals might have got them over the line. A theory backed up when TJ Reid and Martin Keoghan filled the Galway onion bag earlier on.
However, there was a time when giving Kilkenny a seven point lead at any time in a game, let alone at the short whistle, was to be set up for an annihilation. Now though, whether it’s a case of their powers diminishing or whether the pack are catching up is open to judgement. Like a lot of these things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Kilkenny’s era of invincibility was unquestionably founded upon what was for a while a conveyor belt of underage talent constantly streaming through. In more recent years, mind you, the machine had ground to a halt. With the result that Tipperary, Limerick Waterford and Galway have at the very least caught up with them. After all, it was only muscle memory which enabled The Cats to scrape past Dublin and, with respect, any of the others mentioned would expect to overcome Mattie Kenny’s team comfortably.
Thus, the outcome of last Saturday’s game was always going hinge on how the opening jousts of the second salvo played out. When Reid flashed over another score to leave Cody’s crew eight clear, it appeared as if the script was going to proceed along expected lines. Mind you, if that was the case, nobody told Tadhg De Burca or Austin Gleeson!
I think it would be fairly universally accepted that Derek McGrath was not only a brilliant manager but a very affable person. Granted, he had the added advantage of having an extra special bond with the Deise players as he would have thought many of them in De La Salle. However, it appears fairly obvious that there was a reduction in the productivity of the team – and their flagship duo in particular – once McGrath departed his role.
It has become clear over the years that some managers have the knack of going into places and simply things therein better than whence they found them. We’re not talking to Mick O’Dwyer levels here. Just, as was mentioned in my previous column, like the impact Martin McHugh had in Cavan or John O’Mahony with Leitrim or Davy Fitzgerald has had with the few teams with whom he has been involved.
The name of Liam Cahill – the former Tipperary hurler, not my long-time media friend and colleague – now deserves parity alongside those of Gerald and Justin McCarthy and Davy Fitz owing to the transformative effect he has had on Waterford hurling. Shorne, it must be remembered, of the considerable talents Padraic Mahony.
If there was such a thing as a prototype for what a centre back in hurling should be, Austin Gleeson would be it. With contemporaries of similar ilk in Gearoid McInerney and Declan Hannon, to name but two. Furthermore, to my mind, the No. 6 position is the most pivotal on a hurling team. By that judgement scale, you’d imagine moving Gleeson out of that pivotal position would be irreparably detrimental to Waterford’s prospects.
Except Gleeson is another one of those mercurial talents that is of such benefit to whatever team they happen to be on that said amalgams could do with several clones thereof around the field. However, with De Burca hurling with the glorious abandon of a few years ago releasing Mount Sion maestro to work his wizardry furthering up the field.
That said, in the early stages of Saturday’s encounter was the most inhibited I’ve ever seen him hurl. Whether there were words said at half time we’ll never know, but, what was very clear was that Gleeson’s genius was unleashed to full effect. Which, as would be expected, clicked the Waterford machine into overdrive.
Enabling them to blitz Kilkenny like a Kilkenny team has only been bombarded twice in my lifetime, the other one being last year’s All Ireland Final. If memory serves me correctly, those in white and blue hit 2-15 from play after the changes of end and, provided they haven’t peaked a game too early, if they play anything like last week next time out, it should be another feast for the eyes.
FOGRA: Act II to follow shortly…