One of the many great features about hurling as a game is that the best team almost always win. There’s no way to circumvent the spirit of the game, the way you can pack defenses in soccer or kill the ball in rugby or upset Pat Spillane in football.
Hurling is like boxing in that there’s no-where to hide. The game is about fourteen man-on-man battles and if the majority of your team win their individual battles, you win the game. All else is noise.
This is why Kilkenny won their fifth Liam McCarthy Cup in six years yesterday. Because man for man they played better than Tipperary on the day.
As a Mayoman, your Spailpín Fánach knows enough about hurling to know that he knows nothing about hurling, but Kilkenny’s performance yesterday was breath-taking in its primal magnificence. Forget the many arts of the game; the All-Ireland was won in the fiery bellies of the Kilkennymen, who would broke no failure on the great stage.
The normally impassive Brian Cody was clearly delighted yesterday. How he must have nursed the hurt and disappointment from last year to bring it to its white hot focus yesterday. Richie Hogan said in the post-match interview that the team promised themselves they would never feel as low again as they felt last year, and they did not let themselves down.
Christy O’Connor wrote in the Sunday Times on Sunday morning that Kilkenny were royally annoyed not only that they lost last year, but that they weren’t given credit for winning the year before. They knew that the reputation of this Kilkenny generation, hailed as the best of all time before they lost to Tipperary last year, would slide further down history’s scale if they lost again to Tipperary.
O’Connor remarked particularly that they really didn’t care for younger Tipperary players lording it over their neighbours on the banks of Mooncoin, and they stored away that resentment to when it could be of the most use.
The first portent was the crowd. Kilkenny, who have been under the radar all year while the press lionized different players from different counties, came out to a much louder roar than Tipperary. The cats were awake, and had been sharpening their claws.
It’s so hard for sportsmen to catch up to the pitch of a game if they are behind at the start. Tipperary were not ready for the challenge that Kilkenny had to offer and, by the time they showed their own undoubted class, Kilkenny were already licking the cream from their whiskers and thinking of long winter nights of satisfaction and Smithwicks in Langton’s and likewise hostelries.
It’s all the more credit to Cody and the magnificent team he’s created, the perfect blend of skill and aggression. Shefflin is a genius of course, but when An Spailpín is boring his co-inmates in the nursing home as the sun sets, it’s Tommy Walsh that will remain the avatar of Brian Cody’s Kilkenny.
Walsh isn’t even that big, but he can’t be beaten by high or low balls. All are sucked into his possession to be redistributed where they will do the maximum damage to the opposition. In an alley fight between Walsh and a hood with a broken bottle, one could only feel sorry and pity for the bottle. The hood, of course, should have known better when he saw the distinctive red helmet. They are the tough cats that you meet in alleys or on the playing fields of Erin, and they are not easily beaten. More luck to them.