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

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

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.

Will Waterford marksman Eoin Kelly be pleased if they dethrone Kilkenny tomorrow — not if it doesn’t lead to an All-Ireland title, he tells Michael Moynihan

‘There’s no good in being remembered
for good matches’

FOR Waterford, the present bumped into the future in the Semple Stadium tunnel before this year’s Munster hurling final. Eoin Kelly and his Déise colleagues had watched some of the minor decider but had to go in and tog out for the Tipperary game before it finished, and they didn’t know who’d won.

“When we were coming out, we saw the minors lining the tunnel with the cup,” says Kelly.

“That was a great boost – pity we didn’t do the same ourselves – but it was great for them, and great for hurling in the county. They were written off before that game, much like we’ve been written off for tomorrow, but they went out and played their own game, and they got the win.”

Waterford may have been disappointed with their Munster final defeat at the hands of Tipperary, but the quarter-final win over Galway was a comeback for the ages. Six points down with time running out, they beat the westerners to the tape with John Mullane’s late, late point.

“Obviously it was a great win to get, and one we needed badly, but at the same time, that’s in the past as well, just like the All-Ireland final last year. If the bad games stay in the past, then so do the good ones.

“If you look back at last year Cork did the same – they got a win over Galway against all the odds, but then they were beaten by Kilkenny by eight points. So unless you keep winning it doesn’t matter.

“You don’t get anything for beating Galway – or even for beating Kilkenny. We’re not even in an All-Ireland final, that’s the way we’re looking at this. There’s no good in being remembered for playing in good matches – you play in order to win medals. You can’t say it’s a good year otherwise, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Galway game, it was a stepping stone for us, and now it’s forgotten about.”

What hasn’t been forgotten by supporters is the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final by tomorrow’s opponents. Kelly says he and his team-mates are looking forward: “That’s gone – Kilkenny are saying it’s gone, anyway. It’s last year now, so we can’t do anything about it. We can only look to the future and hopefully do better than we did last year in the All-Ireland final.”

He’s keen to stress the positives.

“We’ve a good panel, that’s the main thing. What we have on the bench is nearly as good as what’s on the field, which is a great boost for us. Then you have the minor team winning the Munster championship this year and the U21s being very unlucky not to win the Munster final in Dungarvan.

“People are always saying that hurling in Waterford is dead again when this team is gone, but there are some good young players there, and that drives on the older lads, the fellas who are there a good few years.

“The likes of Tony (Browne), Dan (Shanahan), John (Mullane) and myself have to work harder, and that has to be good for the team.”

AFTER the annihilation in last year’s All-Ireland final there was plenty of blame being assigned, but Kelly stands by his manager and the team’s preparations.

“Expectations are lower this time round but this is our seventh All-Ireland semi-final, and that’s not something a lot of Waterford teams could have said over the years.

“Last year we were probably nervous without even knowing it, if you like. It’s a lot more low-key this time round. The build-up last year was perfect, for the All-Ireland final, but there were one or two differences. For instance, when we ran out it was the first time that Croke Park was actually full for a game we played. That caught us. Up to that I’d have changed nothing. The preparation was perfect.

“Did we freeze or did we meet a wave no-one could stop? It could have been a bit of both, maybe. I didn’t feel nervous that day, we just met a team that nobody could have stopped on the day.”

Manager Davy Fitzgerald came in for plenty of criticism but Kelly defends the former Clare ‘keeper.

“Nobody’s perfect, but in fairness to Davy, he’ll come out and say so when he makes a mistake, and he’ll act on that. We’ve improved with every game this year and that’s down to him, he’s open to suggestions as to how we can improve. It’s good that he’s open-minded and can take on advice – and give it out. He’s improved every player on the team.”

Kelly knows there’s no great secret to what Kilkenny will plan to do to Waterford tomorrow.

“In 2004 they got three goals within about ten minutes in the semi-final against us and though we came back well they still beat us. They did the same last year in the final, those early goals killed us.

“They go for goals, and fair play to them, that’s what good teams do. We gave away soft goals in the Munster final as well but we also missed good chances for goals as well that day. You give teams three or four goals and you won’t catch them, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”

MANY people are forgetting, of course, that the All-Ireland final wasn’t the last meeting of the two teams. Waterford edged out the Cats in a tight league game earlier this season in Walsh Park, but Kelly isn’t drawing too many conclusions from that match.

“We won that day but they went on from that game and won the league. They can raise it a couple of gears, which is what sets them apart, while we hit a slump after that. We lost to Limerick, Dublin and Galway, and two of those games were at home.

“We should have kicked on from that but we didn’t. You have to keep improving, that’s the big thing for a team, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

They’re underdogs tomorrow, of course. Kelly accepts that. He cites Waterford’s team spirit as a cause for optimism, however.

“The last game the odds were 3/1 against us and we overturned them, but you don’t see too many bookies going around on bicycles. They don’t get it wrong too often, we’d like to make tomorrow one of those days.

“Training has been good all year, and very good going into the Galway game. We wanted the chance to show we weren’t as bad as it looked last year in the final, and that’s driven training all season.

“We’ve been together for the last eight or nine years and we’re the best of mates with each other. We want to do well together and hopefully tomorrow will be our day in the sun.”

Hurling’s veterans growing old gracefully

TONY BROWNE plays for Waterford against Kilkenny this Sunday in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final. He’s 36.

Mark Foley plays for Limerick against Tipperary in the other semi-final on Sunday week. He’s 34.

In itself that’s not unusual. Many players last well into their 30s, but they tend to be goalkeepers, who don’t have the same running to do as outfield players.

But Browne and Foley aren’t just outfield players. They’re wing-backs, wearing jerseys that are synonymous with dashing players tearing up and down the wing. Aren’t the aerobic demands bigger, the further out the field you go? Shouldn’t they be sheltering in the corner-back slot?

Not quite. There’s a school of thought that holds you should go out the field rather than backward, as Irish Examiner columnist Donal O’Grady explains.

“Look at someone like Páidí Ó Sé in football,” he says. “He played midfield for Kerry, then wing-back, but as his career went on and on he ended up at corner-back coming towards the end.

“But that was over 20 years ago. Now the corner-back must be much faster, in football or hurling, because the speedy player is put in corner-forward. You can’t shove a guy back there and hope he’ll do okay if he doesn’t have pace; if you have a player like that you need to put him somewhere he won’t need huge speed off the mark, and certainly the half-back line is somewhere a player with good skills and reading can survive.”

Liam Dunne, who played centre- and wing-back himself with Wexford until he was 35, agrees wholeheartedly with that proposition.

“Definitely — you’ll survive in the half-back line longer. From my point of view, I remember when I was finishing up lads were saying to me ‘you’ll come back into the full-back line now’, and I was saying ‘when I’m gone out of this line I’m gone’.

“I knew if I went back to the full-back line I’d be taken to the cleaners altogether.”

Dunne goes one step further, suggesting that a more central role would be that much safer for a player who’s getting on in years than a station out on the wing. He sees Foley and Browne as prime candidates for the number six jersey.

“As you get older, even centre-back would suit you a bit more than wing-back. If you’re able to read the game — and the likes of Mark (Foley) and Tony (Browne) would be well able to do that — then you could drop them in there and they’d be able to do a job.

“But the difference is that Limerick have Brian Geary there, so they don’t have a problem filling the centre-back slot. However, Waterford are playing Michael Brick Walsh there, who’s a terrific hurler, but they’re missing him from the middle of the field. Tony Browne could drop in there and do the job for them.”

The fact that Browne and Foley aren’t the prototype big, brawny centre-backs doesn’t matter, argues Dunne, though he sees protecting the centre-back against a speedy opponent as vital if a smaller player is to thrive there.

“Well, when it comes to size, I’m five foot seven and a half, I’d give Tony five foot nine or so and maybe Mark is around the five ten mark!

“But the game is changing the whole time, and the challenges are different for every game. I remember ringing Liam Griffin before we played Cork in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final, for instance, and asking him what he thought I should do with a bullet like Ben O’Connor. He told me to watch the videos and prepare for him.

“I did that, but there’s no doubt that if a guy like that gets his chance and gets past you, he’s gone. That’s the bottom line — you’re not going to catch him if he gets past you, because his pace is so good.”

Even though Davy Fitzgerald is hardly likely to move Browne to centre-back now, Dunne points out that the ageless wonder did well there in Waterford’s darkest hour last year.

“I’d be worrying about the likes of those players as the year goes on, getting to Croke Park and facing the likes of Kilkenny.

“In last year’s All-Ireland final, Tony and the other Waterford defenders were under severe pressure, particularly in the first half, but he hit a lot of ball when he went into centre-back in the second half.”

Irrespective of where they line out, their old adversary is quick to pay tribute to their longevity.

“In fairness to them both, it takes huge commitment off the field to continue so long,” says Dunne, “There’s great credit due to them for having such long careers.”

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.

Ball in hand, world of trouble

LAST year this column had an interesting chat with Ger Loughnane up in Shannon. Over the toasted special and hot coffee the Galway boss made an interesting observation about primary possession in modern hurling.

“One feature has been the ability of hurlers to win ball out of the air,” said Loughnane in July 2007.

“It’s a skill that’s out of this world. It was never perfected as well as it is now — you have lads flaking on the ball and a small man like Tommy Walsh can reach up and come away with it. It’s phenomenal.”

Far be it from us to contradict Ger, but one impression from last Sunday’s All-Ireland final is that fielding the ball cleanly — particularly among forwards — isn’t the boon it once was.

There’s been a lot of non-specific discussion of what makes Kilkenny so good, ranging from generalised guff about the fact that there’s no other serious challenge to hurling as the top sport in the county to sundry other semi-libellous propositions we need not go into here.

But something Kilkenny do very well is tackling in groups. It’s noticeable that when an opposition player contests his own puck-out, for instance, that Kilkenny players descend on that player from nearby sectors: if a ball is landing on an opposing wing-forward, then, he can expect a Kilkenny corner-back, centre-back, centre-fielder and possibly a wing-forward to join the wing-back marking him.

In that context catching the ball is almost counterproductive. The traditional top outcome for a puck-out is that the target player fields the ball cleanly, turns and then dictates the play up front.

By tackling that puck-out target in numbers, however, Kilkenny make a weakness out of a traditional strength: if the opponent catches the ball cleanly he’s surrounded by at least three opponents and isn’t going anywhere, either coughing up the ball or overcarrying it. If he doesn’t catch the ball cleanly then nine times out of 10 the ball is going to go to one of the rapidly-converging Kilkenny defenders coming to augment the wing-back.

Waterford probably suffered more than most teams last Sunday from that Kilkenny development. In the likes of Seamus Prendergast, Dan Shanahan and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh they have accomplished catchers of the ball, but outnumbered by Cats time and again, they couldn’t win the ball to establish a bridgehead. To top it off, Tommy Walsh — as described above — and JJ Delaney are superb fielders in their own right. In a 50-50 battle you’d back both of them to win more than their share of ball anyway, and thus it proved in Sunday’s game.

Up front Kilkenny stock their own half-forward line with excellent aerial competitors Martin Comerford and Eoin Larkin are well able to contest the dropping ball, but Henry Shefflin is in a class of his own underneath his own puck-out, with two particularly impressive trademark moves.

Sometimes Shefflin — who stands well over six feet tall — doesn’t engage with his marker in the pushing and shoving underneath a Kilkenny puck-out, waiting until the last possible second to launch himself across the defender to win the ball, his momentum then carrying him into the centre and goalwards.

When the Kilkenny man is caught up in grappling with an opponent, he has a devastating ability to deflect the ball onwards past his man — not with a wild pull but by angling his hurley to bounce the sliotar into space behind him. His size and strength is an asset in this case, as he’s able to keep his hurley steady while holding off his opponent.

Other teams will come up with strategies to combat these developments, but at the moment nobody executes them as well as Kilkenny, so those other counties are suffering.

It would be a source of grim satisfaction to a lot of older hurlers to see the (dis)advantage now gained by catching the ball cleanly counteracted by the grand old art of overhead pulling, which would seem to be one of the few options to get around the group tackling as well.

What money on Brian Cody and his backroom to come up with a way to stay ahead of the posse, however?

contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Rejoice
in the era
of pure Rebel gold

IN CONVERSATION with a retired inter-county player a few weeks ago, an interesting point came up when I casually
referred to attendances at
championship games.

“It’s a funny thing,” he said, “I know there’s a credit crunch, or a recession, and that people can’t go to every game, that going to games costs a lot of money. But I think it’s disappointing that some of the games we’ve seen this year haven’t been full houses, and for one
particular reason. These are great players, players that we’ll be talking about in 20 years’ time. I can’t
understand why people aren’t bursting themselves to try to see them.”

Well, people certainly were bursting themselves last Sunday to get to Croke Park, despite the floodwaters unleashed on Dublin. The hurling game ended in a nine-point victory to Kilkenny, who didn’t answer any possible questions so much as serve up
responses with notes, diagrams,
examples and a full bibliography. They were awesome.

That habitual excellence has meant a lot of the media focus this week has fallen on Cork, with a consensus emerging that this is the end of the cycle for this particular outfit from the Rebel County.

And perhaps it is. The half-a-dozen starters Cork fielded who have medals from 1999 can’t go on forever, certainly. Two of them made their debut 12 years ago, and with the demands of the modern game, that puts their
starting point back in the late Jurassic period.

Before they’re consigned to the history books, however prematurely, it might be worth considering what they leave behind (in the
interests of full disclosure, this
column should reveal that it has finished a book on the said team, which covers the period from 1996 to 2008; don’t worry, we’ll be
reminding you all of that fact
plenty of times between now and its publication date in November).

For instance, it’s generally
forgotten now that when Cork
introduced a structured warm-up before beginning a game, there was a bemused reaction from the
hurling world at large. It was
universally accepted that bursting a gut by running 50 yards across the field once you got out of the
dressing room and belting the ball willy-nilly at the goal while
charging around in circles was the best way to prepare for elite
competition.

Now no team prepares without running a pre-game sequence of drills and exercises to get players’ touch in and their heart-rate up.

It’s likely that many people’s view of the Cork hurling team is coloured by the two stand-offs
between the players and their county board; there’s a sizeable group of people who have no time for the players because of that, and membership of that group doesn’t come to a full stop at the borders of the Rebel County.

And that’s a pity. Cork have been involved in some of the most
enthralling games of the last few years: everyone can remember the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final against Clare, but the seam of gold goes back further. Cork-Offaly in 1999 was a classic; the Munster final the following year was no bad game either.

In 2003, they shared the honours in an epic semi-final with
Wexford, and the following year’s Munster final has a fair claim on being the greatest of all time. The 2005 Munster final saw Cork play total hurling in the first half — and just about survive a Tipp
comeback in the second.

The 2006 All-Ireland semi-final had one of the most dramatic
endings of all time, while the three games with Waterford last year were a trilogy to rival the Lord of the Rings for drama, though with fewer fire-breathing demons and walking trees on show.
THROUGH all those years, they’ve done what every GAA team should do,
embodying one place and its sense of itself. For instance, every
supporter — and not just those in red — would like to think that, given the chance, he’d do what Donal Óg Cusack did last Sunday, giving his jersey to the son of Kilkenny ‘keeper James McGarry. Cusack had the chance. That’s what he did.

You can admit it. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

SOME weekend to be a citizen of the People’s Republic, even if most of the Cork people heading east yesterday didn’t have the Bird’s Nest in Beijing in mind. Croke Park wasn’t offering ceremony or choreography so much as conflict and collision, though given the apocalyptic darkness of Dublin on Saturday, a flaming torch wouldn’t have been a bad accessory.

The 71,235 spectators saw Cork take one victory south, a narrower-than-necessary three-point win (2-11 to 1-11) over Kildare in the football quarter-final. In the hurling semi-final Kilkenny put on an awesome display of power and precision to smother the men in red by nine points, 1-23 to 0-17. The Leesiders have been doing a Lazarus act in the last few weeks, but this was one rock they couldn’t roll away from the tomb.

Anyone trying to trace rust on the Kilkenny edges had some evidence early on: three wides in the first seven minutes isn’t what you expect from black and amber marksmen. Cork showed the benefit of those recent championship outings, meeting Kilkenny head-on in contact, and the All-Ireland champions had to rely — not for the first time — on Henry Shefflin to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

We mentioned rocks earlier. Diarmuid O’Sullivan began well and thrived, setting up a Jerry O’Connor point on 20 minutes. When Tom Kenny added another, Cork had a point to spare. Then Kilkenny did what Kilkenny do so well: they got a sniff of blood and opened the arteries.

A sequence of points ended with Eoin Larkin finding open country through the middle of the Cork defence on 23 minutes.

“I suppose a goal is a killer thing at that point of the game,” said Larkin after the game. “When I got it, things opened up for me — we had a two-on-one and I said I’d have a go.”

No sooner said than scored. Larkin tucked his shot into the corner and Cork would have been forgiven for trying to divert the floodwaters recently afflicting the capital to try and slow Kilkenny, but that would hardly have stopped them. Given Henry Shefflin’s form, he’d probably be able to part the waters and lead his team to the
Promised Land anyway.

Kilkenny tattooed 1-7 into Cork during that run of scores, and the men in red were eight behind at the break: it was the same
margin at half-time against Clare in the quarter-final, but there the resemblance ends. When an assassin has you by the windpipe he’s not inclined to offer an oxygen mask, and Kilkenny weren’t likely to facilitate the
resurrection men from the deep south.

Cork died hard — they put together a five-point scoring burst after the break themselves — the goal they needed wouldn’t come. Pa Cronin sniffed an opening on 47 minutes but JJ Delaney, that vanquisher of reputations, came between him and glory.

Afterwards Brian Cody spoke as plainly as ever: “All we could do is prepare and play the game. There were questions asked of us in the first 20 minutes of each half, when Cork were serious, but we weathered the storm and finished both halves strongly.”

For his part, Cork boss Gerald McCarthy had no complaints.

“We have to admire Kilkenny, we gave a marvellous performance up to the 23rd minute but we seemed to take our foot off the pedal a little bit and you can’t do that against Kilkenny, they rapped out an eight-point lead very quickly.

“Against a team like them, that’ll prove impossible to recover.”

In the All-Ireland SFC quarter final which opened the day’s proceedings, at least we weren’t waiting 25 minutes for a score, as happened in Kildare-Fermanagh, or the Amityville Horror as it’s now referred to.

Cork showed more spark than Kildare early on, and a clever finish by John Hayes, followed by Michael Cussen’s flick home, gave them a two-goal cushion they surfed, or at least sat comfortably upon, for much of the game.

In fairness to Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, he didn’t dawdle, making four substitutions before the break, but his players looked off the pace, and the game was on schedule for a long, slow-puncture of an end game.

Then Cork made a few substitutions themselves, giving the likes of Fintan Goold and Michael Shields game time, and maybe that disruption to the personnel didn’t help their rhythm. They conceded two penalties, and though Alan Quirke saved one, when John Doyle buried the second there were only three points in it.

Conor Counihan won’t have enjoyed the end game, which involved Kildare knocking three times on the door for an equaliser that would have wiped the slow bicycle race against Fermanagh from the memory forever. The Cork boss now faces a reunion with Kerry and Pat O’Shea.

It is permissible to rub your hands at the prospect.

And at the prospect of next weekend. Kilkenny looked unstoppable yesterday. Waterford and Tipperary will have a few opinions on that matter, though next Sunday’s winners face a huge task against a driven team. Another driven team may have spent its last desperate hour together in Croke Park yesterday, with speculation already rife about possible retirements in the Cork camp.

Retirement from playing, that is. A good many of them cemented their standing as legends a long time ago.