Cats claw their way through as Dubs deliver

Another day, another unintended consequence of the absurdity inflicted upon the world by Covid-19. Now read on… In one sense, yes, it was great and indeed momentous that 8,500 people were allowed in to see the Leinster SHC semi final double header at Croke Park. But looking through a different lens, it would be easy to conclude it was a chance that got away.

Simply because, with one of the best sports stadiums in Europe – unless you’re a wheelchair user that is – which holds 83,500, surely it could and should have been possible to accommodate more than one tenth of the available capacity. But then, the Government or NPHET – I’ll leave it to you to figure out where the tail ends and the dog begins – love to throw a bucket of cold water on any signs of hope.

It was just such a pity more couldn’t have been in situ to witness two exceptional exhibitions of the grand old game in the big field. One a case of years of potential eventually flowering and the other a gentle reminder from the sport’s aristocrats that a headline once employed in relation to a certain less desirable organisation was entirely applicable in their direction also.

Before that though, we learned that Joe Canning is, in fact, human. The perennially prolific Portumna player had an uncharacteristically average day in front of the posts and with the likes of Darragh Gray, Danny Sutcliffe and Donal Burke shooting the lights out for Mattie Kenny’s side, Chris Crummey’s goal after a mesmeric cross-field ball from Oisin O’Rorke set them on their way to an unlikely though deserved victory.

Mattie Kenny masterminded victory over his native Galway

Their reward for upsetting the apple tart, as one great Dublin GAA supporter famously put it, is being flung into a cage with a pack of ravenous Cats. The latter, for their part, while admittedly not the unstoppable elimination machine they were not all that long ago, there’s still enough ferocity in their claws to leave anyone who rattles their quarters licking rather gaping wounds.

The fondness for Davy Fitzgerald held by this corner has never been a secret but even allowing for that I couldn’t but agree with the sentiments expressed by the great man from Sixmilebridge in the aftermath of his team’s usurpation following another epic encounter between the age old rivals.

Wexford were indeed the better team for the majority of the contest, but, sometimes in top level sport the eventual outcome boils down to knowing how to win. That is not to in any way decry the Model County’s acumen at same, rather, to laud Kilkenny’s ability to eek out victories that seem not so much improbable as downright impossible. Yes, there was nobody better at obliterating opponents when they were masters of all the surveyed.

But when a team is as dominant as Kilkenny were for so long, it can’t all be done in swashbuckling style. Sometimes it comes down to instinct and knowhow. Two qualities which can only be accumulated over time, on good days and bad.

All the best teams and individuals have it. Often acquired from the toughest days. Look no further than the likes of the Leinster and Munster rugby teams. Both of whom had several chastening experiences before reaching their Promised Land. Munster multiply so, while on one seminal occasion, the blue corner managed to overcome a 22 point deficit and claim the title.

Apart from scenarios like those outlined above, the only other way a team might develop such traits is by having it ingrained in them. Again, see Munster rugby under Declan Kidney or Meath at their peak in Sean Boylan’s time. To be indoctrinated in Brian Cody’s world is to be inculcated into a culture whereby things happen that there could be no explanation for other than the transformative effect the great one in the baseball cap has on those in his charge.

How else to explain phenomena such as Eoin Murphy going from skilled outfield player to the best goalkeeper in the game or Richie Reid transitioning in the opposite direction. Being ‘promoted’ from Murphy’s understudy between the posts to an increasingly prominent role at midfield. Thus emerging from the shadow of his brother TJ. Or, for that matter, how newcomers to the realm like Darragh Corcoran and Eoin Cody have bought into the mechanics of the Cody Way almost instantly.

Which is why another one of Davy’s utterances after last weekend – that, basically, people calling for Cody to exit stage left were discharging bovine excrement. They may not be the marauding man-eaters they once were but there’s surely enough venom in the claws to leave their mark on the summer’s hurling. Which should make for great entertainment for the rest of us.

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