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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Conveyor belt is key to Cats' glory

'There are players coming behind us trying to knock us. That's why we're successful' - Buckley

Kilkenny defender Cillian Buckley with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Kilkenny defender Cillian Buckley with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

After another caning loss to Kilkenny in the 2008 Championship, then Offaly manager Joe Dooley leaned up against the tunnel wall in O'Moore Park, Portaloise and pleaded for context.

"Like, they have everything," he sighed.

"That's probably the greatest half-back line ever to play the game of hurling."

At the time, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and JJ Delaney were untouchably brilliant along that line and the unsaid part of Dooley's critique was that once that trio were naturally disassembled, Kilkenny could hardly be so overwhelmingly dominant and ferociously strong there again.

Power

As it happened, all three players retired at the end of last year, another season in which Kilkenny were crowned All-Ireland champions after a final replay in which their half-back line was once again an unimpeachable source of power but one in which none of the above played there.

As exercises in transition go, this one was textbook.

"It wasn't easy to knock the last half-back line that was there, Tommy, Brian Hogan and JJ made up that line and I don't think there was anyone else needed," says Cillian Buckley, now a card-carrying member of the current Cats half-back line.

"The last few years since the boys left Kieran Joyce was knocking on the door for a long time.

"Pádraig Walsh, you're not getting anything too unlike Tommy, it's nearly a replica in a way. Things have fitted in there nicely.

"You get a chance to learn from the likes of Tommy and JJ and you try and reproduce a bit of it if you're playing half-back.

"If we were half as successful as the boys we'd be happy to get some success there.

"There are players coming there behind us trying to knock us so that's what makes the thing so successful."

Award

Indeed Joyce was Man of the Match in last year's All-Ireland final replay victory over Tipperary, oddly becoming the third man in as many years to collect that particular award having not played a single minute in the preceding draw.

Buckley was also promoted from the unused trenches to the front line in 2012, but his story was lost in the hoopla over Walter Walsh.

"You never feel you are far away but there is a fierce sense of disappointment when you are not picked the first day," he recalls now.

"From sitting through 2012 drawn game it's not easy watching, you'd do anything to get out on the field.

"Those three players that got man of the match didn't get a chance to do that the first day so when they got the chance second time around it obviously came through that their hunger won them it.

"Obviously," Buckley adds, "there is a stroke of luck in it as well.

"But it's not easy watching on," he added.

Brian Cody doesn't do sympathy selections, though.

"Very few players break in and once they are in, that's it," he explains.

"That's normally the way it is. Things move on, now they have become the main players, no doubt they are the leaders.

"They are absolutely vital in our set up," concluded the Dicksboro clubman.

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