As I write this I’m still somewhat breathless from watching the second half display by Kilkenny in Croke Park on Sunday.
Many have tried to figure out how Brian Cody and his men keep coming back with a hunger that defies the unprecedented success they have achieved in the modern game. Cody’s teams play as if he has their loved ones tied to the block of an irritable executioner who is awaiting his word to drop the axe should even one of his players show any degree of mediocrity or produce anything less than one hundred percent effort.
Tipperary tried to match them physically but that’s just like throwing petrol on a flame. Kilkenny seem to grow in stature with each contact, to have renewed energy from each shoulder. Every block they put in adds a yard to their step, every catch puts a spring in their next leap.
I read somewhere during the week that the great game of hurling – once defined and ruled by the flick of the wrist – had become defined by the charge of the shoulder, such was the physicality of the inter-county game today. While there were shoulders a plenty In Croke Park, some of the skills displayed by Kilkenny on Sunday show they manage to mix both elements of the modern game to perfection. TJ Reid’s aerial prowess was worth the entrance fee alone. It is one of the greatest skills in a field game as far as I am concerned and Reid soared both above and through flailing Tipperary hurls on a handful of occasions to win priceless primary possession.
Galway’s Anthony Cunningham has already proven himself a manager of considerable substance in both codes (not to mention being one of the busiest men in Gaelic games). But now he is facing into the greatest challenge of his career. Should he succeed not only will he mastermind what I believe would be the first double defeat of Kilkenny in an All Ireland Hurling Championship since the competition’s inception, he will bring home Galway’s first All Ireland title since their consecutive wins in 1987 and ’88.
It would be great for the game to see the Liam McCarthy Cup come west of the Shannon in what would surely herald a return to the top table of hurling by a county with a wonderful tradition in the game. Cunningham won’t have seen anything he didn’t already know watching Kilkenny’s magnificent second half against Tipperary. He’s already proven his side can beat them Kilkenny (albeit minus the hugely influential Brian Hogan and the aforementioned Reid who were missing for that Leinster final). Now he’s just got to go out and get them to do it all over again. Roll on September 9th.
We have a few more pressing fixtures to deal with here in Leitrim in the meantime with the senior football quarter-final draw throwing up some interesting pairings for this weekend. Having reached this stage for the first time in six years Allen Gaels have been given the challenge of ending Glencar Manorhamilton’s reign as county champions. I think it will be a bridge too far for this young side from Drumshanbo but I expect them to throw caution to the wind and really have a go at the champs.
I haven’t seen St Mary’s play since last year’s county final but they topped Group 2 two wins, one draw) and showed themselves to have a tight defense, conceding an average of just nine points per game. Mohill, we know, have the firepower to trouble them, and I was particularly impressed when they got a head of steam up against Melvin Gaels in their Group A game, and this one will come down to whoever takes their chances on the day. One or two points either way should win it.
Annaduff have been one of the most consistent teams in Leitrim for some time and should push on from their league title last year to progress to the semi-finals. Aughawillan are probably a quarter-final team at the moment, but they will still give Annaduff plenty to sweat about.
The final semi-final spot will fall to either Melvin Gaels or Bornacoola. I haven’t seen my Croke Park colleague Fergal McGill since the draw was made, but we have been keeping up to date on each other’s progress to date and I expect a bit of banter in the long hallways of the hallowed grounds this week. On paper it should be the Gaels who progress, especially if you look at recent form. But we would have expected to progress past the Bors a few years ago when we met at this stage too, and they powered past us with an impressive display. The Bors are a championship side and will match the Gaels in the physical stakes. Beyond that, midfield will dictate who comes out on top. It’ll be an intriguing battle – may the best team win.