“The old lion is still a bad mother. He’s fading, but he’s still a lion.” Jim Brown, former American Football player.
Did we see a glorious redressing of the balance in Croke Park yesterday, or the last hurrah of the greatest team of all time?
That is the key question, after a Kilkenny victory that was plainly the sweetest moment in some of the most glorious careers we’ve ever witnessed.
It was a monumental struggle again between these two magnificent teams – too bedevilled by heavy touches and misplaced handpasses to reach the heights of the last two finals, but an enthralling match nevertheless.
And it goes to show how unbelievably accurate you have to be in your preparation to beat this Kilkenny team – Tipperary had to do everything right to beat them last year, and even the most infinitesimal dropping off in standards and intensity did for them on Sunday.
My colleague in Newstalk Michael McCarthy (@mccarthymick) tweeted an hour or two after the game that he would happily watch these two teams go at each other for the next 10 years, and I don’t think too many of us would disagree.
But the question remains – were there Kilkenny players out there raging against the dying of the light? Is Henry Shefflin ready for another year, and a tilt at immortality, having equalled Christy Ring and John Doyle’s record for All-Ireland medals won on the field of play? He’s not the only one of course – Noel Hickey and Eddie Brennan are around since 2000 as well, but for how much longer are they going to stick around?
Premium level stuff
I was a part of the prawn sandwich brigade yesterday (far from that I was reared) – watching the game with Fionn Davenport, travel writer and Newstalk presenter and not, he won’t mind my saying, a connoisseur of the finer arts of Gaelic games. He came partly at least to worship at the feet of King Henry, but Shefflin’s influence on the game was steady more than spectacular, and the questions over his knee must remain.
And what of Cody? I think we were all a little taken aback to see him dancing for joy at full-time, giving full vent to his emotions in a way we just have never seen before. I said after the game that he could retire after this, and while it might seem counter-intuitive in so many ways, how does he envisage the eventual moment to step away, and could it be any sweeter than doing it right now?
Liam Griffin, the former Wexford manager, was on “Off The Ball” last Wednesday night and he told us that Cody’s job would be under pressure if Kilkenny lost. After seven all-Ireland’s in 11 years. That is the crazy house which Brian Cody has called home since 1999.
He has come back to beat the team that denied them the five-in-a-row. He has re-asserted his dominance over hurling – and he would leave the stage as indisputably the best manager we’ve ever seen. No-one knows the best time to step away, and maybe it takes real bravery to stay on that one year too long… but that ninth medal for Shefflin, et al, could well be next year’s motivation.
And there appears to be plenty still in the legs of RTE’s choice as man-of-the-match, JJ Delaney and my own choice for that accolade, and Hurler of the Year on the back of yesterday, the irrepressible Tommy Walsh.
Walsh’s All-Star is certainly secured, continuing his record of winning an All-Star in every year he has played since becoming a senior inter-county hurler, which is a truly staggering achievement. He is now moving in rarefied air – is he the greatest defender the game has ever seen? Of course I can only comment in my lifetime, but the statistics keep adding up, and all in his favour.
A former league of Ireland manager (NOT Roddy Collins, before you ask) once came on Off The Ball and told us that on the given day in question, the opposition “out-physicalised” his team, and while grammatically preposterous, the phrase does sum up quite nicely what happened to Tipperary yesterday.
They didn’t play well because they weren’t allowed to. As well as Delaney and Walsh played, they were matched nearly stride for stride by Brian Hogan and Paul Murphy. It was a monumental defensive effort by Kilkenny, and Tipp just had no answer to it.
The suspicion still remains that we could be entering a period of dominance for Tipp and that could be of some consolation to them this week.
But the kingpins are Kilkenny. Again.