Ashling Dalton congratulates Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin on a historic year for Kilkenny hurling.
Saturday the 27th of September 2014 seems ordinary on paper but not to Kilkenny fans. A year earlier on Saturday 28th 2013 those same fans were probably looking at their tv screens,, watching a Clare team that promises much for the future bring home a fourth All Ireland title for the county.
Brian Cody was looking down from his perch in the stands that day, and what was going on in his head has probably produced the result of what we saw on Saturday.
Did people think Kilkenny had gone away? The easy answer is no considering they are now All Ireland champions, but that answer was not so straightforward a few months back.
Clare and Cork had emerged with a new aesthetic for hurling. It was a fast and possession-centric brand that Kilkenny would not be able to cope with. Their style was seen as one dimensional, their panel not filled with as many capable warriors as before.
Fast forward 12 months and Brian Cody has won the All Ireland with an entirely new half-back line, used over 40 players throughout the championship and is seen as having the strongest panel in the country. Some turnaround.
Their defence was under fire too, The likes of JJ, Jackie, Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh were apparently not capable of coping with the lethal, punishing modern-day foward. While Tommy and Brian Hogan have rarely been seen in a Kikenny jersey since, JJ and Jackie were very central to Kilkenny’s climb to the summit.
JJ’s hook on Seamus Callanan on Saturday was one for the ages and set Kilkenny up for success. The replay was the perfect example of showing that no matter how old a player might be, class is permanent.
Kilkenny were able to blend pace with physicality this year by putting Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh in the wing back positions, and having Kieran Joyce in the center. Conor Fogarty had also been a key figure. He might not be the most stylish hurler, but provides excellent protection as a defensive midfielder. Another masterstroke by Cody.
The key to Kilkenny’s 35th All Ireland title was the retention of the heartbeat of this team, Henry Shefflin. The Alpha male in a pride of lions. When he was not even playing, his influence was still there for all to see. It made leaders out of Richie Hogan and TJ Reid. Henry was never going to depart the stage in 2013, his sending off in the quarter final ensured that, but there was no guarantee he could fullfill the role he played before.
So, the challenge was filtered down to everyone who put on a Kilkenny jersey. It wasn’t so much what Henry did himself, but what the others did for Henry. The goal was thinly veiled; get this man his tenth All-Ireland. Shefflin is the heartbeat of this team and he is one of the reasons they never die.
The other reason is Brian Cody. Every superlative in the book has been used to describe this man. What he has done will be impossible to surpass and even harder to replicate. He could have hung up his cap in 2013, but it is not in his nature to turn down a challenge, because as he said himself, the challenge handed to Kilkenny this year was far greater than previous ones.
Cody was faced with the task of placing Kilkenny at top of the hurling hierarchy at a time when hurling is of the highest standard it has ever been. He did this emphatically.
The fact that Kilkenny fielded five of the players in replay that started in the 2010 All Ireland final speaks volumes about the evolution of this team and the desire instilled by their manager, to keep winning.
So congratulations, Kilkenny, the men they couldn’t hang.
Ashling Dalton, Pundit Arena.