BY NIALL SHERRY
Will it be a winter of discontent?
The dust won’t settle on this season for our hurlers just yet.
It has been a very strange eighteen months across the world, mostly related to the ‘P’ word.
Yes, the pandemic, COVID-19 has cost all of us so much. During these dark times, the GAA has somehow managed to lift our spirits, and through our Hurling, Camogie and Football we have had a glimpse of what normality was like.
Games without supporters was not something that we could ever have imagined, but our players ensured that we had something to cling to. As restrictions eased, we started to see fans returning to our grounds, and this had an energising effect on games.
Kilkenny had a largely successful league campaign, topping Division 1B. As no league final was scheduled in this season’s calendar, the title was shared between both Galway and the Cats.
The league saw captain Adrian Mullen return to action and allowed Brian Cody to shuffle his pack game to game. It became clear early on in the league campaign that Glenmore’s Eoin Murphy was a keeper of the highest quality. Murphy would go on to have a great season, and is undoubtably an All-Star candidate for the Number one jersey.
Victories over Dublin, Antrim, Laois and Wexford would come before a final league game against Clare. Perhaps it was the trip to Ennis that helped put some perspective on the shape Brian Cody’s team were in. Clare racked up 4-20 in their home win, as doubts surrounding the Kilkenny defence resurfaced. The Banners win continued their winning streak against the Nore-siders – making it six games without a loss.
It was TJ, yet again who finished top of the league scoring charts for Kilkenny – hitting 1-34 across the campaign and making him the only black and amber player in the ‘Top Ten’ Scorer’s list. The reliance on the Ballyhale legend continues.
As we all know, the league’s for playing. It’s the championship that gets the Gael’s going. As Leinster got under way, Cody’s panel watched with interest as their semi-final opponents were confirmed. As expected, Davy Fitz & co prevailed against Laois in Nowlan Park, setting up what was to be his final dig at the cats with the yellowbellies.
In arguably the greatest game of Hurling this year so far, the lads took fans on one hell of a rollercoaster. In front of 8,000 fans at headquarters, both sides provided a fantastic spectacle. In a game that ebbed and flowed for its entirety, Wexford somehow managed to force extra-time by hitting three late scores. The Kilkenny faithful feared the worst when keeper Eoin Murphy was sent to the ‘bin’ for a foul. Wexford scored the penalty and the cats trailed by the minimum at the interval in extra-time. Our boys would go to the well again and finish the game strongly, hitting 1-6 without reply in the second period, including a lovely goal from Walter which saw them claim a final berth against the Dubs.
The Leinster decider was never going to live up to the semi-final spectacle, the home side lost some players to COVID-19 in the build-up, and despite their best efforts, Kilkenny claimed a 73rd O’Keefe cup in front of 18,000 Gaels. Leinster was done. Cody knew a bigger, stronger challenge lay ahead, if the cats were to end the wait for Liam.
Kilkenny continued their preparations in their quest for the ultimate prize. Once Cork overcame Dublin in the quarter-final, Cody could focus on what was to prove to be the last match of the season.
Another extra-time affair. Another visit to the well. Ultimately the well ran dry in the final ten minutes of the semi-final battle. Cork’s pace and running game won the day. Semi-final defeat and heartache for our boys. Our leader and legend, Brian Cody admitted the better team won on the day. As usual Kilkenny went down fighting.
Thanks for your efforts, Mr. Cody & squad. In these times, you have given us all great hope, excitement and much needed distraction. 2022 we’ll be expecting you. The fight will continue.