Return of the ‘Me’

July 23, 2012

Apologies for long delay, linked to arrival of two smallies. Back in harness now, though.

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IT NOW appears that Kerry footballer Tadhg Kennelly has joined former NBA star Charles Barkley among the select group of sportspeople who have claimed they were misquoted in their own autobiographies.

The Kerry footballer has spent much of the week rowing back on his confession he intentionally charged into Nicholas Murphy at the start of last month’s All-Ireland football final, issuing a statement on Tuesday night which went into some detail on the subject.

For the record, last weekend, in an excerpt from his autobiography published in a Sunday paper,
Kennelly admitted he had set out to put down a marker in the
All-Ireland final by charging into the first Cork player he could, which turned out to be Nicholas Murphy, whom he caught with a shoulder to the jaw in the opening seconds of the game.

Subsequently Kennelly said: “I gave an interview to the Australian ghost writer Scotty Gallon.

“I didn’t read it over as I should have, and the first account I saw of the incident was on last Sunday morning.

“Scotty used an expression ‘cop that’ to describe my feelings immediately after I connected with Nicholas. I said no such thing.

“The challenge, I admit, was over the top. I was too pumped up.”

It’s a little bit late for Kennelly to start finessing his position. Claiming he had no intention of injuring anyone while simultaneously
admitting he caught Murphy with his shoulder on the jaw, an
extremely dangerous challenge,
undercuts subsequent protestations of innocence more than somewhat.

It also undercuts something else: a county’s reputation.

This newspaper has been contacted by several Kerry natives wishing to express their disappointment with Kennelly, while on the county’s biggest GAA internet messageboard the reaction early in the week was also been overwhelmingly negative.

Even his manager, Jack O’Connor (himself no stranger to, er,
autobiography-based controversy) said it was “not the Kerry way”.

Kennelly’s team-mates will not have had their hearts gladdened by his admissions either, as evidenced by his pointed reference to Paul Galvin in the original text, which carried a whiff of implication, though the former AFL star moved swiftly to exonerate of his team-mate in his statement.

AS of next year’s league,
referees all over the
country will be spending a fraction of a second longer
weighing up whether accidental collisions and borderline tackles by the team in green and gold are
intentional or not.

Their opponents may not be
inclined to grant even a momentary benefit of the doubt.

If the row casts a shadow over what appeared to be fairy-tale story of All-Ireland success, that’s
unfortunate.

If it leads to
confrontations on the field of play, that would be truly unfortunate.

Kennelly may also suffer because of what is happening in another sport: we’ve been hearing rugby pundits for some time ponder
“intent” when it comes to
controversial incidents, citing legal problems in establishing a player’s intentions when placing his feet or fingers.

Intention isn’t an issue when you round off your description with “cop that”.

What we would really like to know, however, is the reaction of a man in the southeast of the country.

As Brian Cody sips his coffee and leafs through his Examiner this morning, he might ponder that Kerry’s footballer of the year, Paul Galvin, was suspended for most of last season and sent off in this year’s Munster football final replay.

Their totemic midfielder, Darragh Ó Sé, came under scrutiny
following an incident against Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final.

The internal suspension of two more players, both former
Footballers of the Year, was well publicised.

And now a player employed as a coach by the Kerry County Board admits a premeditated assault on an opponent at the start of the
All-Ireland final.

One can imagine the Kilkenny manager putting his newspaper down with a frown to muse aloud: and they said my team were playing on the edge?

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

I T’S the book that has shocked the
GAA, but Cork in particular. The
most sensational revelation has had people opening conversations with “Have you read . . .” for the last day or two, and re-evaluating their opinion of a famous GAA player. Everyone suspected it would be spelt out, of course, because the rumours have been swirling around for a while, but the stark, unvarnished statements of fact still came as a surprise.

Enough for now, though, about Tadhg Kennelly’s confession that he targeted Nicholas Murphy in the All-Ireland football final.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried the banner headline that Donal Óg Cusack, Cork hurling goalkeeper and multiple All-Ireland-medal winner, was outing himself as gay in his new autobiography, Come What May.

By making his sexuality public while still playing Cusack has issued a tacit challenge to the GAA nation in its dealings with him. On the field of play opponents seeking to wound with casual homophobia have had their guns spiked.

Off the field of play . . . well, in some conservative pockets within the Association, Cusack’s identity as a driving force within the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) is likely to remain far more inflammatory than any
flummery about bedmates.

In one sense, it should hardly come as a surprise that a top GAA player would state he’s homosexual: if a
proportion of the population at large can be assumed to be gay, then why shouldn’t that proportion be the same, if not higher, among men who train for hours in the gym all year long, obsess about their diet and physical well-being, and spend the vast majority of their time outside work with other men who share their interests?

Facetiousness aside, Cusack’s honesty deserves to be applauded. His frank and detailed account of telling his family about his situation, for instance, should help others who face a similar prospect.

And In an odd way it was the perfect week for such a development. In the wake of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s unexpected death, news bulletins carried references to his husband Andrew without demur or explanation, a tacit declaration that people don’t need to have twentieth-century attitudes massaged in order to handle twenty-first-century realities.

Cusack’s case is different to Gately’s, of course. In a hurling championship game participants don’t face off in front of a crowd screaming with one voice for a song from the latest
album; half of the crowd is
usually screaming with one voice for immediate and terrible retaliation to be visited on the
opposition.

Some throats are probably warming up already for a sitting duck: Cusack is 32, not particularly old for a goalkeeper as dedicated as the Cloyne club man. He was as good this season as he ever was, so it’s more than likely that when Cork take the field in next year’s National Hurling League and Munster championship he’ll be trotting into goal with the red-and-white hooped jersey.

What will the reaction be from those standing on the terraces behind him? In Christy O’Connor’s fine book ‘Last Men Standing’, which follows hurling goalkeepers,
including Cusack, over the 2004
season, one of the common threads to the testimony of the goalies interviewed was the amount of
abuse poured out of the terraces onto the heads
of the men in the No 1 jersey.

GAA members can be complacent about the innate decency of most spectators at
inter-county games, but anyone who has stood behind the goal at one of those games and heard the vilest comments roared about a hurler or footballer’s private life knows there are as many louts following GAA as there are in any other sport.

Cusack has heard as much abuse as any other keeper, a situation which is unlikely to change after yesterday’s revelations; it’s one of the more
remarkable aspects of human nature that some people can reconcile the apparent contradiction of abusing others’ personal circumstances — circumstances they’d accommodate willingly if replicated within their own family.

Enough of the anthropology. The Cloyne man joins a pretty select group of gay sportsmen: former NBA player John Amaechi has outed himself, as did Olympic diver Greg Louganis, though it’s significant enough that both of those men did so after their careers were finished. GAA supporters will have to examine their consciences when it comes to the specific
imprecations they wish to visit on the Cork goalkeeper next year.

Our kudos, by the way, to the
internet sage who wondered if the shocking discovery to be found in the Cloyne man’s autobiography referred to a season spent playing minor
football for neighbouring club Russell Rovers.

After all, there are shock revelations, and then there are shock revelations.

FOR any sports club or
organisation, producing a history is more than a way to link the past with the present. It’s a way to save the word ‘tradition’, a term which often becomes ossified through overuse and ends up scoured of any meaning.

It’s also a way of contradicting the old saw that history is written by the winners, which couldn’t be more wrong: it shows that history is written by the participants, if they have a will to do so.

Cloyne GAA club launch their club history this evening in Ballymaloe.

It’s a handsome production, well written by Dr Diarmaid Ó Failbhe, and bears eloquent witness to decades of activity.

They’ve lifted a title from Stendhal — The Red And The Black — though he’d hardly mind.

Those interested in the Frenchman’s novel will hardly mistake the
adventures of Julien Sorel in 19th-century France for the stormy 19th-century game between Cloyne and Dunmanway in which a Cloyne player was stabbed in the face.

Then again, you never know.

The Cloyne book follows a template familiar to anyone who has a fatal addiction to such histories, this columnist included, tracking the progress of the club on and off the field from 1887 onwards.

There’s an innocent pleasure to
tracing the progress of club members from underage or minor success through to the adult teams in a club and, for many, from there to
administration.

The smaller the club, the clearer the progression — the player goes from the club’s top team, lining up grim-faced before a local divisional
final, say, to its Sunday-morning social outlet side, with barely a defined
jawline between them.

There may not be a decade between the photographs but, if the reader is alert, they give a full account of
99% of all GAA playing careers: wholehearted, enjoyable, obscure.

The player’s name then pops up in the results of agms, drifting between officerships, and eventually a son or daughter peers out from a photograph a couple of chapters down the line, eerily reminiscent of his or her father in a similar snapshot from 20 or 30 pages earlier.

The Cloyne history is no different. Family names are sprinkled through the book like seasoning and incidents which once made the blood boil
between parishes are given a context and resolution.

If the adjudication inclines in some of those instances towards the Cloyne viewpoint, well, maybe history is written by the winners after all.

Certainly there’s a politic discretion about a stormy game in 1972 against Glenville, in which a Cloyne offender was identified in the referee’s report as wearing a headband.

Maybe it was a crime against
fashion.

One of the voices heard in the book is Paddy Hoare, the Kildimo Sharpshooter, who bagged a hat-trick of goals in the 1938 East Cork Junior Hurling Final: still hale and hearty seven decades on, Hoare’s
reminiscences include offering to
swap with one of his team-mates, who was getting a hard time at wing-forward from his marker in the following year’s county junior final against Mayfield.

The Mayfield defender knew he had his hands full: the Cloyne wing-forward had scored 2-4 in his previous outing for the club, and his name was Christy Ring.

Cloyne have been represented on Cork teams since, with Donal Óg Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan their most famous players in recent years, but naturally Ring is a person and a presence apart.

Small villages all over Ireland enjoy brand-name identification arising out of a the exploits of a hurler or
footballer. Valentia and Tullaroan, Knockroghery and Castleconnell — you could name them all night, but you wouldn’t have to wait until evening for someone to drop Cloyne onto the list.

For all his years with Glen Rovers, the maestro was intimately identified with his own home place, and the
history strikes a fine balance in
honouring the village’s most famous export while also ensuring that Christy Ring doesn’t overshadow
everybody else.

One of Ring’s long-time adversaries, Tipperary’s John Doyle, says it best in the book.

“Whatever you do, do it well,” says Doyle, “Because he deserves that.”

They’ve done it well. They all
deserve it.

Contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie ;
Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

The names change, the debates live on

IT WAS county final weather in Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday, and county final conditions.

Patrons will be familiar with the constituent elements: two parts
October sunshine to one part yielding ground, with a breeze cutting down the Marina to spite the clear skies. The cocktail is familiar to anyone who ever attended the Little All-Ireland.

We have a reason for starting with the meteorology, not to mention the geology, one that doesn’t augur well for the entertainment value of the county final itself. Sarsfields and
Newtownshandrum headlined
yesterday and served up an even first half but the game began to die as a contest once Ben O’Connor flicked home his side’s opening goal.

When Newtown added goals from Jamie Coughlan and PJ Copse there were 15 points between the sides with a quarter of the game left. Sarsfields required snookers, if not actually
stuffing the pockets of the table with socks.

It was a surprising demolition given Sars were viewed as slight favourites, and did nothing for the spectators’
enjoyment of the closing stages.

During those final 15 minutes the tension was bearable, frankly.

Newtown won’t be bothered by the fact that the game wasn’t destined to be remembered as one of the great contests; for them it was one of the best displays. And one of the best
results, a historic trimming, 3-22 to 1-12.

History was a constant yesterday in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. After all, one of the men who helped to build the
reputation of the Cork county senior final as a perpetual highlight of the hurling calendar, Din Joe Buckley of Glen Rovers, died last week.

It was good that he was
remembered before the throw-in yesterday with a minute’s silence because he, his team-mates and their
opponents were the men who fought it out in the old Athletic Grounds for the county title and established the competition’s credibility.

Given yesterday’s drubbing it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always a case of diamond on diamond back then, even — Buckley picked up one of his county championship medals 71 years ago, and that game had echoes of yesterday’s. Back then the Glen were more promising start-up than the corporate superpower they became, much like Newtown; their opponents were Midleton, a traditional east Cork superpower, much like Sarsfields.

Even the scoreline that day has a familiar ring — 5-6 to 1-3, a point less than yesterday’s winning margin.

Other days which recalled the long shadows of autumn were remembered at half-time in the senior game, when the victorious senior captains of the last 25 years were introduced. As ever when you range across a random selection of men from quarter of a century of Irish life, there was a full spectrum of fashion sensibilities on offer — from distressed jeans among the recent winners to muted earth tones for the older men, aligned with classic conservative winter jackets.

They had something in common, though — a shining hour in the old stadium by the river and the memory of having to recall some primary school Irish before wiping their hands and receiving the Sean Óg Murphy Cup. The warmth of the applause was genuine, and if it was a little louder for Kevin Hennessy and Christy Coughlan junior, then that was understandable.

As for Cork observers in the market for optimism next year, they saw Ben O’Connor and his brother play as well as ever.

In terms of fresh blood for the red jersey, Michael Cussen showed neatness in possession and good accuracy for Sarsfields; in the first half he pulled down a couple of high deliveries but couldn’t work a goal opportunity, and as his team fell away he was starved of possession and forced to move outfield. By then Sars were taking water everywhere, however.

Early arrivals saw Eoin Cadogan cruise through the curtain-raiser, the Premier intermediate final between his Douglas side and Ballymartle. Cadogan’s long, smooth stride devoured the ground in Páirc Ui Chaoimh and showed why he’s wanted by Conor Counihan and Denis Walsh alike.

A little optimism for 2010, then, but in football or hurling? The county final has always been more than a game and a result; it’s always functioned as a thesis for debate. And there was plenty of that as the knots of people moved up the Monahan Road, drawing their coats around them as they strolled in the shadows beneath the trees.

The names may change, but those discussions never end.

Adopted Rebel Howlett firmly
behind Cork
crusade

HALF a world away from New Zealand, he still can’t cheer for a team in green and gold. All Black legend Doug Howlett had many a Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies: he knows a rivalry when he sees one.

Hence the New Zealander’s enjoyment of Cork’s Munster semi-final win over Kerry. Based in Cork while he plays for Munster, Howlett quickly appreciated the hold GAA exerted in his new home.

“The first thing that struck me when I came out of Cork Airport when I arrived was the big statue of Christy Ring — that emphasised for me just how big the GAA sports are here.

“Cork being my local town while I’m with Munster, I decided to follow the local teams in hurling and football. And with the Munster squad everybody’s got their own team, so it’s obviously more fun when you’ve got your own team and your own opinions. And I’m aligned with Cork.”

His commitment means just one thing for his teammates: ammunition.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of banter about everyone’s GAA team. Denis Leamy is a big Tipperary fan while you’ve got plenty of guys from Limerick cheering on their sides.

“As a sportsman you appreciate what these guys bring to their sports — the footballers’ kicking skills and fitness levels, obviously. I just enjoy being part of the crowd.”

Given the number of high-pressure games Howlett has played over the years at all levels, being just another spectator must be a welcome change.

“Exactly. That’s what I really enjoy — somebody else is putting on the show, not Munster, and it’s the other side of sport. I can sit back and enjoy the occasion and relax with a cup of tea — and have an opinion on the game.

“I got to the Kerry game down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh — I’d heard of the history between the teams, and the lads with Munster said it was definitely a game worth going to, and I really enjoyed it. I met a few of the Kerry lads as well, and they’re a good bunch. But I can’t support two teams.

“I’d seen the drawn game, and that really added to it, that there was so much at stake. The replay was a great game, as they all are at this stage coming into the semi-finals.”

As has been pointed out many times in the past by others, Howlett was struck by how suitable many GAA players would be for rugby.

“Of course — coming from a country which has rugby as its major sport, and where athletes are pushed into rugby, I can see that here it’s much more diverse, and you have three or four different sports athletes can choose from.

“Looking at GAA athletes, they’re well suited to rugby, it’d be interesting to see them with a rugby ball and how they’d do.”

The star winger has his favourites on the Cork side, but rules out taking up hurling any time soon.

“I like Graham Canty a lot, he’s a real workhorse that leads from the front and doesn’t slow down for the entire game, he’s one player I enjoy watching.

“If I were playing Gaelic football myself … I don’t know, I think I’d be able to get on the ball, but then it’d be a question of what to do with it after that! I’d see myself up front, or maybe midfield — though I mightn’t have the height for midfield.

“Hurling? I don’t think so — hurleys are often brought out at Munster training and I’m well put in my place by the likes of Denis (Leamy) and Tomás O’Leary.”

Howlett hasn’t lost focus when it comes to the day job, given it’s getting to a stage in the year when thoughts are turning to rugby — at all levels.

“We’re back with Munster and ready to go, a lot of the pre-season work is done, and we’ll be ready for the new season.

“There’s a pretty good start to the season today actually in Highfield, with the Meteor Munster Sevens tournament. That’ll be a good day out for rugby fans.”

And tomorrow? Is the Kiwi Cork fan going Upper Hogan or Lower Cusack?

“I don’t have a ticket for tomorrow actually,” he says. “I’m a bit cheeky, I’m hoping to wait for the final.”

Waiting for the final? Sure you’re not a Kerry supporter?

Spicy starter before Cats’ main course

LAST Wednesday, I rang a pal who’s seen more than his fair share of inter-county training sessions with a proposition.

“I’m thinking of heading to Nowlan Park,” I said. “I wanted to see Kilkenny training, would you be interested in coming along?”

The answer was instantaneous: “When can you pick me up?”

Kilkenny training sessions have gathered a certain mythology in recent years, with whispers about practice games that don’t resemble hurling so much as the TV show Deadliest
Warrior, in which Viking berserkers take on Samurai warriors and so forth.

When we landed into Nowlan Park, however, there was no raw meat strewn on the pitch; enemy heads weren’t stuck on pikes at the gateposts either.

The players were stretching and warming up, and then broke into a running drill; manager Brian Cody then spoke to the players in midfield before they divided into two full teams in green and blue jerseys.

My travelling companion was
impressed: “The warm-up isn’t that structured, but that’s not surprising — these lads are on the go so long that management obviously trust them to do the right thing.

“For the game they have 15-a-side and two players who can come in as subs, not to mention those three — Power, Larkin and Tyrrell — doing rehab. That’s good because it’s a full game and space will be tight enough.

“If the players approach it in the right way, then they don’t have a chance to develop bad habits, which they would if it was only 11 or 12-a-side.”

We can tell you: the perception that Kilkenny play training games with sabres and nunchucks rather than
hurleys is wrong. They don’t.

But it’s still spicy. TJ Reid arrived into Tommy Walsh’s orbit with a hefty shoulder before the ball was even thrown in, which leads one to ponder: if Tommy gets the láimh láidir in training games, why bother replicating the same in a championship match?

Later on, ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick was left stretched on the ground after one collision and JJ Delaney clearly didn’t
appreciate a hurley being flicked across his facemask as he came up the sideline. TJ Reid was mauled from pillar to post as he tried to escape two markers but the only call was “steps”. From a defender.

The appeal fell on deaf ears. When we say Brian Cody refereed the game, we mean he blew the whistle to start each half, though for appearances sake he also gave a free for overcarrying.

The large crowd’s view of proceedings was also interesting: Noel Hickey got a rousing cheer when he cleared the first ball, but spectators didn’t seem too happy when the ball was handpassed around the middle or short puck-outs taken; they warmed to the longer, crisper deliveries.

My pal pointed to a couple of small things.

“When a player breaks a hurley he goes and gets a replacement himself. Now in a match, Kilkenny would have someone running the line with players’ spare hurleys, so in that sense this isn’t quite like a competitive game.

“But on the other hand, it just shows that the players take responsibility for what they’re doing themselves — it’s ‘get on with it’ rather than holding anybody’s hands.

“And you can see that attitude if someone gets a belt or a shoulder — nobody comes over to them. Unless they’re actually down injured, they’re expected to get on with it.”

After about 22 minutes of the game, Cody whistled for half-time.

The players assembled around him in the centre of the field, listening
to instructions.

The intensity went up a notch when the game resumed, with a few flicks that weren’t scrupulously well-aimed, to put it mildly; tactically it was noticeable that players often
eschewed a clear shooting opportunity from distance to find a better-placed colleague.

The second half lasted about as long as the first, and the players took on fluids for a few minutes before trooping to a far corner of the field for more running.

Many of the several hundred observers in the stands had left by then, having clearly come to see the game, so they missed the last drill. The backroom staff marked out a circuit of two-thirds of the playing area and the panellists ran around it — sprinting 30 metres, then jogging 15 before running another 30 metres and so on.

When each player — goalkeepers included — had done 20 30-metre runs, the session finished with a warm-down lap.

All in all, the session took about an hour and 20 minutes.

“That was a good session,” said my co-pilot.

“What impressed me was the players’ attitude — they’re there for work and there’s no messing.

“But a few small things also helped it run smoothly, things that maybe people wouldn’t pick up. The young fella behind each goal hitting back the sliotars — that speeds things up. Using jerseys for the mixed match saves time as well, there’s no big delay handing out bibs.

“There weren’t huge bags full of sliotars used, either — I’d say there wasn’t a dozen sliotars used in the whole session. And when it’s over, it’s over — there’s no staying out for frees or shooting practice. Obviously that work can be done on your own time.”

One session isn’t a representative sample, of course. There may be evenings when the fare is so torrid that farmyard animals are sacrificed on the 65-metre line, and there may be evenings that become watered-down, pallid non-events.

However, we’d be fairly sure that the sight of Brian Cody and his
selectors carrying off the equipment themselves at the end of a training
session is a common sight.

The same goes for the spontaneous invasion of the Nowlan Park pitch at the close of training.

Dozens of kids poured onto the turf to emulate their heroes and reenacting what they’d just seen; the future of Kilkenny hurling, plain for all to see.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

Nightmare leads to dream final

IT’S ON. Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the All-Ireland final, and for all sorts of reasons hard-wired into the DNA of both counties, both counties will be glad.

The Cats would rather beat Tipp than any other county to win four-in-a-row. And Tipperary, more than anybody else, would want to be the county to put a stop to their smoothly-purring gallop, if we can cross species for metaphorical purposes.

Cut us some slack. After yesterday’s mismatch we’re looking for consolation anywhere we can get it. Tipperary beat Limerick back to the Stone Age yesterday in a game that didn’t make it to the 20th minute as a contest.

The final score was 6-19 to 2-7, or at least we think it was. The scoreboard operator ran out of light bulbs with 10 minutes to go as we entered a realm of fantastical numbers familiar only to Stephen Hawking. Or maybe Liam Carroll.

It’s our own fault. For the last couple of weeks we were talking Limerick up like Canadian investors looking over an Allied Irish Bank prospectus, and we’re not the first to discover that the value of investments can fall as well as rise.

There had been a lot of confident asserting that, based on their history, Limerick heads wouldn’t drop if Tipperary jumped out an early lead, but yesterday’s collapse was on a par with Dublin a couple of weeks ago, another side to find themselves smothered as they defended Hill 16.

Clearly somebody tore up a fairy fort at the Railway End when the pitch was relaid after the U2 concert, and that somebody needs to put it back.

Limerick paid tribute to Waterford’s largely successful template against Kilkenny early on yesterday, pulling players back the field, with David Breen out in the middle, Seamus Hickey picking up Seamus Callanan, and Brian Geary loose between the two defensive lines.

However, they took their homage a step too far when Stephen Lucey replicated Aidan Kearney’s first-half error last week. Lucey misjudged a routine delivery right down the middle and the ball ran through to Eoin Kelly behind him. Alone. Twenty metres from goal.

What do you mean what happened next?

On fourteen minutes Lar Corbett left green jerseys twisting in his vapour trail and placed Noel McGrath for a forehand smash to the net; two minutes later Mark Foley dallied for a heartbeat too long on the 21-metre line and had his pocket picked in front of goal by Pat Kerwick, who finished with extreme prejudice.

At the end of the first quarter, then, Limerick were three goals behind and the game was dead as Dillinger.

The score was 3-8 to 0-4 at half-time and Tipp added a further 3-11 to their total after the break.

“We missed a few chances and we were on the back foot after 20 minutes,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy afterwards. “By half-time, realistically, as a contest the game was over. At half-time we thought we could come back as good as we could, but it was a big hill to climb at that stage.”

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy was delighted with the win, but he wasn’t gloating in the immediate aftermath.

“Anyone watching sport would know that that wasn’t Limerick today. I feel for Justin and the lads. It’s happened to me as a manager a few times — nothing happens for you and it doesn’t work out, and Limerick had one of those days.

“There’s big guys in that dressing-room, there’s character in that dressing-room and have no doubt they’ll be back. That just wasn’t their form.”

True enough. But to throw some business jargon into the mix, for Tipperary going forward, the poverty of Limerick’s challenge yesterday means that questions remain for Sheedy and his management team.

For instance, we all expected Tipperary to fade a little in the second half, as they’ve done in previous games this year, and when Limerick burgled a couple of goals the Premier’s mini-hiatus seemed to have arrived right on cue.

At least it did until Lar Corbett buried another two goals within seven minutes. Does that mean the second-half slacking-off problem is solved?

Tipperary’s half-forward line has been criticised for disappearing in recent games, with Seamus Callanan in particular being fingered for vanishing into a phone booth and re-emerging in his civvies rather than a cape and tights. Yet he was also available for the Corbett pass Noel McGrath finished to the net in the first half, and he slipped into splendid isolation on a couple of other occasions as well, scoring fine points in the second half.

At the other end of the field Sheedy’s deployment of Padraic Maher on the edge of the square worked well, but when your team wins a game by 25 points, how much pressure has your full-back been under?

Expect something different on September 6th when Kilkenny take the field.

“They are the team,” said Sheedy. “And rightfully so. They’ve earned that over the last four years. It’s no fluke they’re going for four-in-a-row.”

And it’s no fluke that Kilkenny’s appetite for work has burnt itself across the retinas of the pretenders. Lar Corbett testified to that after the game.

“I don’t think that work-rate would win an All-Ireland on September 6th,” said Corbett, whose personal contribution was a spectacularly lazy 3-1 from play. “We know what Kilkenny are doing to teams year in, year out. We’re under no illusions.

“We see Kilkenny do it year in, year out – the man in the best position gets the ball. That’s it. Today the man in the best position got the ball and if you start from that you’ve a chance of winning any game.”

Eudie Coughlan had a succinct comparison of the up-and-coming Kilkenny side he and his Cork team-mates beat in 1931. They were coming in, he said, and we were going out.

Kilkenny were not the blood and iron regiment of 2008 against Waterford in this year’s semi-final, and as the year goes on the men in blue and gold look more and more like an irresistible tide. But are Tipp really coming in this year? Are Kilkenny really going out? Questions to savour.

Anything to put yesterday out of the mind: those familiar with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane will remember the scene in which Kane’s girlfriend makes her opera-singing debut; the camera tracks upwards from the stage to a pair of stagehands far above, listening to her murder the aria from Salaambo. One stagehand simply looks at his comrade and then holds his nose.

There was a lot of that going around yesterday.

Myths
dispelled but legend only grows

WHERE did your
preconceptions about Waterford-
Kilkenny start and end last weekend?

A few myths went by the wayside on Sunday in Croke Park. We decided we’d have a look at them.

Hurling is gone all tactical now, it’ll never be as good again: anyone who thinks that tactics never played a part in hurling should check the
oxygen content on their planet’s
atmosphere. Puck-out plans, creating space and playing the percentages
under the dropping ball have always been part of hurling.

What’s noticeable now is that teams are playing to patterns, with space
being closed down deliberately in
defences.

If you don’t like them apples, wait around — you’ll see a coach come up with a way to overcome those
patterns. That’s sport.

You can only beat Kilkenny by playing an extra defender: The
dividend in playing an extra player at the back against the Cats is in keeping the scoreline down, not in winning the game.

Credit is due to Waterford boss Davy Fitzgerald for not playing that particular game last weekend, as it would surely have resulted in an extra marker for John Mullane, for instance, and choked the Déise attack.

Davy’s team set up in a withdrawn formation instead, with the players up front retreating 20 metres backwards for Kilkenny puck-outs and forcing PJ Ryan into a couple of short puck-outs, just as the Cats did to Cork in the 2006 final.

That made sure Waterford had
bodies in the forward line when they broke upfield and had passing options which helped them to score.

Third myth: Tommy Walsh is one dirty player:

Walsh picked up a first-minute yellow card last Sunday, as did his marker, Eoin McGrath.

The sanction is always a heavier burden for a defender, however, as it means one mistimed tackle or loose challenge can be catastrophic.

Walsh, who has come under
scrutiny this season, contributed
handsomely to Kilkenny’s win,
including the killer ball for Henry Shefflin’s goal.

Given the plethora of cameras and commentary surrounding inter-county games these days, it’s hard to see how any ‘dirty’ player would survive the keen eye of the media in the first place, but that’s something for another day.

Waterford are an aging team and getting older: one of last weekend’s teams had two starters from the 1999 season, but it wasn’t Waterford.

Henry Shefflin and Michael
Kavanagh of Kilkenny have had a decade at inter-county level, while Tony Browne was the only starter for
Waterford who played that year.

Granted, Browne’s career goes five years further back than that, and if Ken McGrath hadn’t been injured, may have started instead, but surely that hangs up the whole last-year-for-the-Déise talk, a riff that’s been played for much of the last decade.

The four in a row is a formality for Kilkenny now: Not so fast. Kilkenny’s graph hasn’t been as smooth as it was last year, when their form rose inexorably through the
semi-final against Cork to a crescendo against Waterford in the final.

They have suffered from the loss of Noel Hickey in particular at the back, and if it wasn’t for a certain H.
Shefflin up front they might have even lost last Sunday.

None of which, of course, is proof against the chances of an irresistible performance in the All-Ireland final. It’s just that those chances look
slightly more remote than they did this day last week.

Henry Shefflin is untouchable: on the quarter-hour last Sunday, the Kilkenny talisman went for goal from a 21-metre free when his side were two points up. It was saved.

The disastrous implications of the missed free were dissipated somewhat when Shefflin pointed a free two
minutes later.

We’re exaggerating slightly there, of course.

What we can’t exaggerate is the aura that now surrounds the big Ballyhale man; the surprise in the fact that his choice of target didn’t work out last Sunday is proof of that.

Some myths eventually become fact.

Contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie
twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

Cats pass gut-check, Mayo don’t

WRIST ACTION: Waterford’s Shane Walsh gets to grips with Kilkenny’s JJ Delaney in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE THUMBS UP: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody on a job well done. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE NET RESULT: Meath’s Cian Ward celebrates scoring a penalty against Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

MORTAL after all? Waterford put last year’s All-Ireland final behind them yesterday and put it up to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, and though the Cats had five to spare at the finish, the game was alive to the very end, contrary to general expectations.

All of Noreside must be waking up this morning swaddled in relief that Henry Shefflin, though born in Waterford, is a Ballyhale man to the core. Doubts about Shefflin’s place in the pantheon dissipated years ago, like the smoke at a pontiff’s election, but rarely was he needed as badly as he was in Croke Park yesterday. And rarely has a player delivered as he did.

Shefflin ended the day with 1-14, and led his team-mates through one of their toughest challenges in recent years. He converted frees, he won possession, and he scored a vital first-half goal. His manager, Brian Cody, agreed that he’d made a huge contribution.

“Not for the first time, obviously. He’s been outstanding for us on a couple of occasions when he didn’t score from play but he got a few scores.

“His workrate… everything about Henry is top class. He brings everything to the game, everything to training, everything to his life. He’s just an outstanding fella and an outstanding player. He was excellent today.”

That excellence was sorely needed. As expected, one of the sides went for the jugular early yesterday and scored a goal on four minutes to settle themselves. We just weren’t expecting it to be Waterford, when Shane Walsh produced another fine ground stroke following Kevin Moran’s mazy run.

Waterford were much better than they were last September, withdrawing downfield and inviting Kilkenny into a crowded killing zone in front of their goal. At one point Cats keeper PJ Ryan was reduced to short puck-outs to his full-back line, a development so unusual that a couple of his targets forgot to gather the ball.

Add in the fact that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh hoovered up any ball that came into the Waterford half and carried it back upfield with that inimitable loping stride, and Waterford were doing a good deal better than okay.

Until a long ball dropped into Henry Shefflin, that is.

The man in the green helmet found another green helmet, Eddie Brennan, and Kilkenny had a goal. When the Waterford defence suffered a systems failure dealing with a long Tommy Walsh delivery ten minutes later, Shefflin found himself one-on-one with Clinton Hennessy. Goal number two.

Kilkenny were six up at the break, but there was no disintegration from Waterford. Two minutes into the second half Shane Walsh booted a goal and Eoin Kelly added a point. They had momentum, as manager Davy Fitzgerald said afterwards, but they couldn’t kick on.

“When we got them back to two points . . . the one thing we were trying to do was avoid leaving gaps at the back. We were trying to keep it as tight as we could and pull everything back the field.

“They only managed to open us up with 15 or 20 minutes to go – they managed to pull us out and brought on a few fresh bodies who got on the ball and did some damage. And you can see it happening from the sideline and you’re wondering how are you going to get the message out to them to get back into formation?”

The danger of leaving gaps at the back was illustrated by Shefflin’s seven-point haul from the 20 minutes after Waterford’s second goal, but even then the Déise refused to wilt.

A Kelly 65 dropped to the net between too many cooks on the Kilkenny line, and they still needed PJ Ryan to redeem himself late on with a reflex save from an Eoin Kelly snap shot. Breathless. Relentless. But still, when the smoke cleared, a Kilkenny win.

Davy Fitzgerald pointed out that teams are getting closer to Kilkenny on the scoreboard, and he may have offered the winners of the Limerick/ Tipperary semi-final a template to take into the All-Ireland final: to do what Kilkenny have been doing themselves for a few years, as the Clare man put it after the game.

However, the winners of Tipp-Limerick will have to reckon with Kilkenny’s appetite. Brian Cody wasn’t accommodating any suggestions yesterday that his side’s taste for glory had dulled.

“I make no bones about hunger – I never suggest that hunger will be up for grabs. It won’t be up for grabs. That’s intact. That’s there. The players who go out on the pitch and the players they represent on the sideline – there’s too much involved in that to ever give anything less than your best.”

They will also have to deal with Henry Shefflin. The big man has been King Henry in Kilkenny for some time, but on yesterday’s evidence he may need to be elevated to another stratum of royalty altogether.

FOR THE winners of Tipp-Limerick, read Meath in football. They put Mayo out of the championship in yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at headquarters, and now face the football equivalent of Kilkenny in a couple of weeks’ time.

They should savour this victory first, though. Compared to the free-scoring tournament-game scorelines of the previous weekend, this All-Ireland SFC quarter-final was more what you expect of a championship game, with players’ resolve being tested in a game of incremental gains.

Mayo looked to have a foot in the semi-final when Aidan O’Shea touched home a Trevor Mortimer cross to put Mayo four up with twenty minutes left, but then the game really swung.

Cian Ward goaled from a penalty to cut it to one and Meath levelled it through David Bray, but there was plenty of discussion in the stands of the sideline ball which led to the penalty. The linesman appeared to have his flag up for a throw-in when Joe Sheridan made an executive decision and booted the ball into the Mayo red zone.

Meath’s competitive fire seared Mayo from there to the end. With a minute of regulation time left, substitute Jamie Queeney drove past a static Mayo defender committing an Under 12 mistake, waiting for a pass to arrive, and the Meathman won a ball he had no right to claim. When he curled over the point there were five between them.

It’s always tempting to over-analyse the little incidents and overdo conclusions about the overall game, but that was one instance that didn’t lie.

In the hurling game yesterday there was also plenty of evidence in the thousand miniature battles around the field – namely the fact that the Kilkenny number ten won most of them.