Inside Track with John McIntyre
WE were hoping (praying!) that they would be down for a little longer, but Kilkenny have no interest in hurling democracy or acceptance of the widespread theory that it would take Brian Cody and his management team a few years to rebuild a team capable of challenging for major honours again. Nowlan Park last Sunday was a sharp reminder of why the Cats have dominated the league and championship for nearly two decades.
2017 was the worst season Kilkenny endured under Cody’s 20-year stewardship. Championship defeats to Wexford and Waterford were bad enough, but they didn’t even get to Croke Park. And when the men in black and amber also stumbled in their opening two league matches this spring, together with lean pickings at minor and U21 level over recent years, it all suggested a protracted transition period for the county lay ahead.
Two months later, however, Kilkenny have not alone regained the league title but in the process inflicted more big-match misery on a Tipperary team which was found wanting in every department – work-rate, commitment, tenacity and aggression – that Cody prides himself on. Throw in a superb individual display from TJ Reid, a big second-half from Walter Walsh, and the rapid progression of some young talent like James Maher and Paddy Deegan, it’s amazing how quickly Kilkenny have assembled such a formidable force again.
The return of Paul Murphy, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan, if managing to recover from a back injury, will only strengthen them for the summer. Suddenly, Kilkenny are back in business and though they may be slightly less direct than normal, their basic tenets of players being expected to win their own ball and a savage will-to-win were all plainly evident against Tipperary.
In contrast, this was another chastening defeat for Michael Ryan’s charges, but it’s partially their own fault. They had a big chance to beat Kilkenny in the counties’ Division 1A league tie at Nowlan Park in February, but Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath were unused substitutes that day as the Cats shaded the verdict by a point. If the shoe was on the other foot, Kilkenny would not even be thinking about compromising their prospects of victory.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.