A friend of mine from Ardmore in Waterford had badgered me to try and get a ticket or two for the past few weeks for the All-Ireland hurling final.
She really believed that this was going to be their year. How wrong she was.
At least she was not alone. The whole county down there and their most famous supporter, Keith Barry, believed that something special, even magical, was going to happen last weekend. They were right in that at least.
However, from their perspective it was not what they had hoped and prayed for.
Instead it was Kilkenny who produced such a superb and scintillating performance that we all just looked on in a daze. Theirs was such a perfect display that it was almost difficult to comprehend: 3-30 on the scoreboard, two wides in 70 minutes of hurling. The array of individual excellence, distinction and collective brilliance just went on and on.And for success-starved counties in this part of Ireland, it is difficult not to ask the question: Why them all the time and not us even some of the time?
What can we do?
Take Galway hurling as a case in point. Despite having had a lot of success at minor and U-21 level in the past two decades we still seem as far away as ever from getting re-acquainted with the Liam McCarthy Cup. That particular piece of silverware has not flirted with anyone on the western side of the Shannon since back in 1988, and based on last weekend’s mauling of Waterford, it will be a while yet until it comes west again. However, the luminosity of Kilkenny’s display has to be taken in the context of the fact that they live and breathe hurling in the county. It is a religion of sorts.
There is in reality nothing else from a sporting point of view. Soccer, Gaelic and rugby just don’t register, not for the any self-respecting Cat to be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. Children are told to bring their hurls, helmets and school books to national school every day - and in that order of importance.
Unless or until other counties take their hurling or football as seriously as the top few counties do in either code they cannot expect to compete on a regular basis at the top level. Yes, every now and again you may get a good team together and challenge or perhaps even win an All-Ireland here and there; however, your county will not consistently compete at the top level unless the structures are in place for that to happen at the grassroots level.
It is not nuclear science and there is no massive secret to what needs to be done; however, the question has to be asked whether there are the personnel, resources, determination, and desire to put in the work that the likes of Kilkenny do at so many different levels.
Cody is the leader of the pack
It does not just happen in the senior grade and the leader of their tribe, Brian Cody, who is a magnificent hurling man, has gone on record on numerous occasions to allow others to follow their template. If we so wish. Last Monday morning, he again with great humility argued that this recent success is not, nor should it be, about him: Cody said: “I will be forever saying this, it is not possible to put something into place that’s not already there. We have a great set-up. It works. It’s not dependent on me, or any other individual, it’s dependent on everybody just doing their own bit.
“Players start hurling at home. That’s the key to it. The love of hurling. It’s not about sorts of brainwaves and mad coaching directives. Give a fellow the chance to get out and play and give him the love of the game. It’ll go a long way. The work being done in the clubs and the schools is immense and Kilkenny are reaping the rewards.
The love of the game and the work being done at clubs and schools levels, that is the key. And one other question- how many of us can hold up our hands and say that we are, as Cody suggests is the most imperative of all, “doing our bit”?
After their 23-point win over Waterford, Cody was asked if he was surprised by the manner of their victory. He was not. “I can always see it coming, to be honest. We make a guarantee that we will give ourselves every chance to win the game. It is a guarantee that we will perform. It is a guarantee that we will work.” Nothing more needs to be said. Only action from there on is necessary.