Muddy morning in Stradbally, Electric Sunday in Croke Park

Last Sunday’s hurling final was the greatest I have ever seen. I particularly enjoyed the senior match, but the minor game provided a wonderful array of all of the great skills of the ancient game too. If the minor encounter was a tasty starter, the senior game between Tipperary and Kilkenny was an awesome encounter. There was huge physicality and manliness about the match from the minute the ball was thrown in right to the very end. It was gripping stuff and at no stage during the match could I have predicted the outcome. I was half hoping that Tipperary would win it for a number of reasons. I normally shout for the underdog but I also have a brother- in- law from Tipp and he was really excited in the lead up to this match. I felt for him when I spoke to him after the game as he was planning a few days off to celebrate a massive homecoming in Thurles! However in the grander scale of things I think it was appropriate that the Cats prevailed to create their own bit of history and win their fourth All- Ireland in a row. Winning so many titles doesn’t happen by chance and anyone involved in management at any level will be intrigued as to how Brian Cody keeps his players focused, fresh and driven. There are so many distractions for young people these days that it is a task in itself to keep players interested in their chosen sport. That is why I took special interest in the comments of Cody in a post-match interview earlier this week when he gave an insight as to why this current Kilkenny side are arguably the greatest hurling team of all times. He suggested that there is no chance of this great Kilkenny team getting complacent or big-headed, despite their phenomenal run.

"There is no sense of superiority or anything, because as soon as that happens the whole thing falls apart," he said.

"The brilliant thing about our players is that what they've done is legendary but when you see them, in a couple of days, you wouldn't realise they'd even won an All-Ireland medal! They're grounded, solid.

"They'll go back to their clubs and give it everything there as well because they just love playing hurling.

"There's nothing mysterious about it. You love your sport and you drive it on."

Here was Cody giving a unique insight into his team and the way they conduct themselves. I suppose that is the primary reason why they have achieved so much. They are grounded. And you know what, every single one of them will tog out and play club hurling in the next few weeks with the same intensity, passion and desire to achieve. No excuses from these boys!

It was a privilege to have witnessed such a great game and it made me feel proud as a GAA person that we have such a unique sport that can attract 83,000 live spectators, with hundreds of thousands more spread throughout the world tuned in to witness or listen to amateur sportsmen play their chosen sport so well. My American friend Jeff Tuttle rang me almost immediately after the game to establish if it was true that these guys don’t get paid and have to turn up for work the next day. I corrected him and suggested that they would probably have Monday off!

The local games weren’t bad either

Crossmolina played Ballina last Saturday evening at home. Ballina are not involved in the latter stages of the championship and one could have suggested that they had very little to play for. Nonetheless they played exceptionally well and I think neutrals at the game would have thoroughly enjoyed a good fast open game of football from both sides. Ballina really stretched us and we were put to the pin of our collar on lots of occasions throughout the game. We lived a charmed life on a few occasions, with the post and crossbar coming to our rescue more than once. We were delighted to come away with a narrow victory. What was particularly impressive was the fact that there was no hangover from our championship encounter played a few weeks ago. Saturday’s game was played with great spirit and sportsmanship, with both sides focused on playing football. I was impressed with the handling of the game by match referee Kevin Connelly, who adopted a commonsense approach and let the game flow as often as he could. Both sides lined out without a few of their main protagonists, with both Pat Harte and Ronan McGarrity missing from the Ballina line up and the two Nallens missing from our side. Henry McLoughlin, our midfielder, although fit to play was also unavailable due to work commitments. That game still sees us one point behind table leaders Charlestown and with just two games remaining we are running out of time to catch them. Meanwhile we are beginning to focus on the championship in two weeks’ time. A number of our players have returned to college, work has scattered a few more around the country, so it’s difficult enough to co-ordinate sessions where we can get all or most of our players together. I hope Ballaghaderreen are experiencing the same problems!

Big Joe comes west

The news west of the Shannon in recent weeks has surrounded the imminent appointment of Joe Kiernan to the Galway football management post. It has been suggested by those in the know that he will stay in Galway for a couple of nights a week, and travel to Armagh for a night or two. His family is at an age that allows him to do this and I have heard it mentioned that he can manage his work remotely. His appointment isn’t good news from a Mayo perspective. The reality is he will create a buzz in Galway football and I can only assume we will see an improvement in their play for the first year at least. Winning a Connacht championship next year won’t be easy, despite the fact that we play Galway here in McHale Park.

Johnno shows his commitment to both sides

I heard that Johnno and his selectors met with a number of Mayo players last Saturday in the TF hotel to review the year just gone and to discuss plans for next season. Several people have remarked to me that Johnno must have enormous energy to keep both sides going, ‘both sides’ being an obvious reference to his political and football commitments. I am amazed at his commitment and staying power and I marvel at his enthusiasm. The easy thing for Johnno would be to say, “My three years in charge has been enough,” and walk away. However the delegates of this county have endorsed his reappointment for a further two years and Johnno is displaying real commitment to the cause by seeing out his two-year extension. I am not privy to the content of the meeting but I believe there won’t be any changes to the backroom team which some might suggest would have freshened things up. I believe a change in certain aspects would be good for the squad. I have heard people mention that a strength conditioning coach who would provide players with an appropriate programme which would be monitored and assessed could prove to be a worthwhile addition. One of the noticeable features of the hurling match last weekend was the power and strength of a number of players on both sides. The Tipp full back, for example, is only 20 years of age but he is a huge man and didn’t shy from the maestro Shefflin. Now if only we could produce a few like him?!

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