Kilkenny losses are so rare, they always seem to spark the end of an era. But it never has been the case. In 2013, a Kilkenny team lacking energy and leadership were beaten by Cork. In 2010, Tipperary’s All-Ireland wins at senior and under-21 looked to spell a new period of dominance, then Kilkenny win four of the next six All-Ireland titles. To put it bluntly, Kilkenny are going nowhere.
There were a few worrying trends watching Kilkenny on Sunday. The lack of depth and the lack of intensity were the two main reasons behind their failings. Brian Cody hardly changed anything until the 60th minute when he made two changes. This showed a real lack of faith in his substitutes. That ruthless streak associated with the Kilkenny manager was non existent.
After being described as ‘The Masters Of Intensity’, Kilkenny fell very much second best in the intensity stakes in Croke Park last Sunday. Any time Kilkenny have not been the hungrier team, they have not won. A draw or a loss is what has resulted on those occasions and last Sunday was no different.
Tipp’s performance was no great surprise. They were always going to be extremely hungry to win and prove people wrong. Too many negative questions were being asked of them. If they had anything about them at all, they had to bring it to the field of play for 70 plus minutes on All-Ireland final day. They delivered and Kilkenny could not provide the answers.
Kilkenny’s performance was a surprise. The funny thing about the game was that Kilkenny did not play with tactics. These pages have strongly question the myth about Kilkenny’s style of play, where many feel they play a straight forward, very direct game of hurling, while most of our writers certainly beg to differ. Tactics and workrate have been the driving force behind Kilkenny’s victories in 2014 and 2015. Both were lacking in bulk on Sunday.
It was the first time that Kilkenny played an orthodox 15-on-15 game since the drawn All-Ireland final in 2014. That day, Kilkenny conceded 1-28 and last Sunday saw them conceded 2-29. They were far too open and it was a mind boggling game plan. Michael Fennelly was a loss but his presence on Sunday would have made no differnce. Kilkenny were outplayed in every sector.
Their full-back line received zero protection. Paul Murphy was not getting in front of Joey Holden as he was too busy running after Bubbles O’Dwyer. Kieran Joyce was spending his time tightly marking Patrick Maher or Dan McCormack. He was not dropping deep in any way and was not protecting the suspect Holden.
Holden has been receiving a lot of plaudits over the last year or so, but last Sunday showed that he is the weak link in the Kilkenny team. He was helpless in the full-back position. Of course, it should be taken into account that he was marking Ireland’s best forward and the supply of ball coming in was of a high quality. But last Sunday showed how vulnerable he is when Kilkenny don’t implement their defensive game plan.
There was oceans of space between the Kilkenny full-back line and half-back line. It was a forwards dream and a defenders nightmare. Michael Fennelly was a major loss here and while Conor Fogarty worked his socks off, he did not have enough support. The protection that those two playes supply for the Kilkenny defence is invaluable and totally underestimated. Tipperary, along with Clare and even Cork in the league, managed to expose this.
The other area that Kilkenny pride themselves on is the middle third of the field. This is basically a free for all for the Cats on their day. Three half-forwards do not play as orthodox forwards. They are extra midfielders who hook, block and hassle to prevent ball from being delivered to oppositions forwards, and turn over ball to set up attacks of their own.
On Sunday, Kilkenny met a wall, a four man wall of Seamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher and Brendan Maher. Add Dan McCormack dropping back to this and Tipp did to Kilkenny what Kilkenny do to most other teams. On Sunday, Tipp out-Kilkenny’d Kilkenny. Tipp were the masters of intensity and won the game empahtically.
But Kilkenny will be back. The Cats are at their most dangerous after a defeat. They have prided themselves on coming back from these defeats during Brian Cody’s reign in charge. 2002, 2006, 2011, 2014 are the four prime examples. On each occasion Kilkenny fell flat after a winning multiple All-Ireland’s, they came back emphatically each time.
It will not be as easy on this occasion. This is an ageing Kilkenny team. What was shown up on Sunday were certain limitations within the side. It took an exceptional performance to finally see this Cats side beaten in the championship, but it is a victory that other counties should take huge heart from.
Waterford, Tipp and even Galway for 35 minutes showed the ability to really dominate Kilkenny. Cracks finally appeared and other counties have to take a massive psychological edge out of this. They can be beaten, now they have been beaten and they ceratinly can be beaten again.
By no means are they finished and they will be at least second favourites to win next year’s All-Ireland title. A winter of hurting will mean around 30 wounded Cats will be taking to the field in 2017 desperate for revenge. They will still be a major force and an incredibly hard team to beat, but teams should now see that Kilkenny are not as invincible as many people thought.