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The pros and cons of domination

 

IF you wrote a fine novel, people would be grateful if you penned another eight of a similar standard. Shoot nine superb films and they’ll queue around the block when your next picture opens. A string of seminal albums will do wonders for your popularity.

Dominate a sport, though, and the public won’t love you. We sports fans value fairytales over old money, minnows over giants.

Kerry of the 70s and 80s, Liverpool across the water at the same time, Manchester United a decade later; some will say nice things about you but the majority soon tire of your excellence.

Most hurling fans are tired of Kilkenny victories. They may as well have a long sleep, though, because this team isn’t finished.

Henry Shefflin is not finished. He’ll be Henry the 10th before he hangs up his hurley. JJ Delaney is not finished, he’s just turned 30 and has at least three more seasons in him. Tommy Walsh has not even reached 30, he is a long way from done. Brian Cody shows no signs of having had enough. People ask what has he got left to achieve? Simple, lead Kilkenny to the All-Ireland title in 2013. And then there’s 2014, and then the season after that …

Why would he even think about quitting? Hurling clearly dominates his thoughts. He’ll always be involved. It’s either this or the O’Loughlin Gaels under-10s. He may as well keep on keeping on with the Cats then. Good news for The Village’s under-10s rivals.

When will Kilkenny tire of winning Liam MacCarthy Cups? That’s simple too: the answer is never.

How else do you define yourself if you’re from there?

We’ve got a nice castle …

The fishing is not bad …

Err, we have a comedy festival …

The world’s fastest and most skilful field game – we dominate that. Sounds a bit better doesn’t it?

Kilkenny is Ireland’s only hurling county – it is the one place where neither football, rugby nor soccer challenges the appeal of the sliotar and camán. Hurling is intrinsic to identity; crucial to collective self-worth. You don’t get tired of feeling decent about yourself through sporting achievement.

And rarely do you get to experience the lull of being second-best when your team is led by men like Cody, Shefflin, Delaney and Walsh. Even by Kilkenny’s standards, this quartet is unusually driven. Defeat interferes too much with their peace of mind to be contemplated.

Cody is now unquestionably the greatest manager of all time, Shefflin the greatest hurler. Chances are we will never see their like again and the odds of seeing a team perform to such high standards over such an extended period are remote.

You’d think we’d be in their thrall, clinging to every lingering moment. But we’re not. It all reminds me a bit of Nick Hornby hoping that star rival players would not be fit to face Arsenal. He said it was like paying top dollar to see the three tenors and hoping Pavarotti had a sore throat.

Most hurling affciandos – especially fans of other teams – would love it if Cody and Shefflin announced they were taking the next two seasons off to study French literature, sign development contracts with Leinster Rugby or maybe just run the country.

We’d actually like the standard of hurling to drop just so it is more competitive. For years the typical line has been that Kilkenny have raised the bar and it’s up to everybody else to reach that level. Well, everybody has been trying, but the bar is too high. Can we just lower it instead?

Either that or drop a load of footballs and rugby balls on Kilkenny from a low-flying plane, and hope the natives don’t burst them.

Their singular devotion to hurling has simultaneously enriched and impoverished the great game.

You might catch Kilkenny with the odd sucker punch, but come the final bell, it’s they who will be swinging.

We know Galway beat them in the Leinster final in July. We know Galway were five points clear of them in the drawn All-Ireland final. We know these things because video and documentary evidence exists. We even saw it with our own eyes.

None of that matters though; it might as well have never happened. Kilkenny pulverised Galway from start to finish on Sunday.

Some point to Cyril Donnellan’s goal that was whistled back or Jonathan Glynn’s failure to put away the rebound from Joe Canning’s rasper against the post which led to Cillian Buckley extending the lead to four points at the other end. Well, these people miss the forest for the trees.

Kilkenny beasted their opponents all day long on Sunday. They were their physical and mental superiors. Even when Galway struck for two goals in two minutes through David Burke in the first half – against the run of play – Kilkenny swatted away the insurgency with a goal and a point, while turning a three-point deficit into a four-point lead by half-time.

There was simply no way Galway were leaving Croke Park with Liam MacCarthy on their coach.

They, like every other team, get to spend the winter thinking about how to take down the might of an empire backboned by troops that fight with the fanaticism of guerrillas.

Some day we’ll truly appreciate the majesty of this Kilkenny team. As with many other sporting reigns though, we’ll only truly appreciate it when it’s over. That day is postponed for another year. And the rest.

 

 

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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