Kilkenny's ability to unearth classy forwards goes on
Published 16/06/2016 | 00:00
The Inter-County hurling games I witnessed over the last two Saturdays were worlds apart.
After attending the three lower-grade finals in Croke Park one week earlier, I entered into a different realm entirely in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, when Kilkenny and Dublin locked horns in the Leinster Senior championship semi-final.
I didn't need to wait until this clash to understand the mammoth gulf in class and ability between the top and bottom teams in the sport, but it was a compelling contrast nonetheless.
Many of you will have watched the action in the matches in question from the comfort of your own homes courtesy of TG4 and Sky Sports respectively.
However, I have always preferred to be there 'in the flesh' if at all possible as there's so much more to see and absorb from the stand. You can give me that over the armchair any day of the week.
When Kilkenny cranked up the power in the third quarter on Saturday they were simply awesome.
Michael Fennelly is a man mountain, while the defending of Paul Murphy and Cillian Buckley was magnificent.
And what is it about our neighbours and their ability to unearth forwards who produce the goods on the big day?
Walter Walsh from Tullogher-Rosbercon did the business on his first championship appearance in the All-Ireland final replay of 2012 against Galway, and then it was the turn of Glenmore's Ger Aylward to leave his considerable mark on last year's campaign.
An unfortunate injury to the latter opened the door for somebody else to step forward, and the limelight is now shining brightly on Jonjo Farrell from Thomastown whose 1-5 from play was one of the chief talking points from Saturday's game.
Farrell has been knocking around the team in the National League for a few seasons without nailing down a regular spot, but when the chance arose against the Dubs he took it with aplomb.
However, even that is no guarantee of inclusion in the Leinster final against Galway or Offaly. Farrell will have to keep proving his worth in those legendary Kilkenny training games between now and July 3, because if his form slips over the next few weeks there's a strong chance of Cody and co. exploring other options.
That's one of the key factors that has left Kilkenny on top of the ladder; each and every player has to repeatedly show his worth, in stark contrast to other counties where a promising youngster might make a Senior panel in his late teens and stay there regardless of performances for the guts of ten years.
I also admired Kilkenny's ruthless approach, particularly in defence. At the slightest hint of a goal chance for Dublin on Saturday, the man in possession was hauled down, and if that meant collecting a yellow card then so be it.
I praised Cillian Buckley above, and one particular 'tackle' of his in the second-half springs readily to mind.
The Dublin defenders were adept at this also for the most part, and you can rest assured that Farrell would have been hauled down before his goal if there was somebody close enough to him to do it.
Where does it leave us? Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are in a dark place after the team which beat us by 13 points goes on to lose by twelve in its next outing.
To those who might say 'remember 2014', my reply at this stage is: what about it? That's all in the past unfortunately, and while it was wonderful to beat Clare and Waterford in an exciting summer, they have both moved on to greater things whereas we have sadly regressed.
By this time next week we will know our qualifier opponents, but with players dropping like flies due to injuries it's difficult to be optimistic regardless of what the draw unearths.
Our footballers did learn their fate on Sunday when Fermanagh were brushed aside by 14-man Donegal after a reasonably strong first-half showing.
Northern sides are never easy to beat in the qualifiers, but Down had a strong league campaign behind them last year when we shocked them in Innovate Wexford Park; a repeat of that particular dose is the target now on the last weekend of the month.