Kilkenny don’t lose tight games.
This is quickly becoming a rule of thumb in the hurling landscape. Brian cody’s charges have come through many the tight encounter in recent years, but invariably come out as victors. Why is that?
Credit must go to the Cats. It may be a cliché, but there is truth in the statement that they just don’t know when they are beaten. This never-say-die attitude sees them hunt the ball as a unit, not losing faith in their system when things aren’t going their way.
Having won eight of the last ten All-Ireland titles, and eleven of the last 16, Kilkenny are a well oiled machine. Defence starts at number 15. When the other team has possession, every single player is working his socks off to hassle their opposite number, and make things as difficult as possible.
At present, Kilkenny are not the most skillful team in Ireland. Certainly, they boast outstanding talent within their ranks, but man for man it could be argued that Galway and Tipperary have more stylish hurlers.
What they do have is a team with more heart than any other in the country.
Last night in Páirc Uí Rinn, Cork had them rattled. Leading by six points with the clock running down, the Cats clawed their way back into the game, and got the breaks to put the game to bed.
However, the Rebels know that they left that game behind them.
With the scores tied, deep into injury time, Conor Lehane laid off a slick pass to Bill Cooper for what should have been a routine score. Cooper had too much time, and the pressure told as he missed a point that most junior hurlers would put over in their sleep.
Moments later, Patrick Collins collected a ball with zero pressure being applied. As he tried to pick out a pass to mount one last attack to potentially win the game, he found the unmarked John Power who duly popped over the point to crush the hosts.
Anybody watching that game will tell you that Kilkenny should have been beaten, but the records show another narrow victory.
Is there an element of Kilkenny’s aura working its way into the opposition’s mindset? With each passing game, does the task of edging a narrow victory over the Cats take on a greater significance? Are the Black and Amber being put on too high a pedestal?
Last night was not a once off. Three weeks ago, Tipperary yielded to the Cats from a winning position, having led the whole game. In last year’s All-Ireland final, Galway had one hand on the Liam McCarthy Cup, and just needed to keep doing what they were doing. Summer 2014 saw Limerick and Tipperary incapable of putting the game to bed.
Kilkenny have gained a psychological edge, and teams now require immense ‘bottle’ to beat them.
Sure, you could deliver the sweeping statement that they are too good to lose games. However, if examined on individual cases, they often get out of jail due to their opponents shutting down at a crucial moment.
This is an immense edge, and one which they have built themselves, and for that credit must go to Cody and co.
If the Cats are to be stopped in 2016, it will take an effort of 70 minutes plus.
George Foreman battered Mohammed Ali for eight rounds in 1974, but could not finish him off. Ali soaked up all the pressure, and took his chance when it mattered most.
It is one thing to put your opponent on the ropes, but it is no good if you can’t deliver a knockout blow.
If allowed, Kilkenny will come back with a strong counterpunch, and floor you.