Hero to zero? Not in Kilkenny, reveals Liam Griffin
Cats don't run out of lives, stresses ex-Wexford boss
HERE'S the glass-half-full synopsis for all pretenders to Kilkenny's throne, Wexford included ...
"The Cats may be champions but they aren't the force of old. All these retirements have left them vulnerable. Their legendary strength in depth is no more, so even a few injuries to pivotal players could badly affect them as this hurling championship unfolds."
Liam Griffin has heard all this talk and, not for one second, does he fall for it.
"I think that's fanciful really," says the last manager to lead Wexford to All-Ireland deliverence, 19 long years ago.
"It may happen, but we're going to have to see it happen to believe it. Just the same as Doubting Thomas - you want to put your hand in there to see it really happen."
Griffin's beloved Wexford travel into the tiger's den, if we can mix feline metaphors, for this Sunday's Leinster SHC semi-final (2.0).
There, in Nowlan Park, they will attempt to build on the beguiling promise of last year's epic qualifier run. Yet it's worth recalling how the season panned out: Liam Dunne's men collapsed against Limerick at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, losing by a staggering 24 points, whereas Brian Cody's indefatigable crew did what they normally do, found a way to Liam MacCarthy.
Since then, six of Cody's medal-laden dressing-room have retired. Henry Shefflin was obviously the most iconic, followed by Tommy Walsh ... yet full-back JJ Delaney was the only 2014 starting mainstay to call it quits.
This goes some way to explaining Griffin's rationale that, compared to most other counties, there has been "no upheaval" in Kilkenny.
"It's just the law of succession," he tells The Herald. "There's very little change from the team that won the All-Ireland ... how many of us can go out and play with 12 or 13 or 14 fellas who won an All-Ireland last year?"
He stresses that "the only real one missing is JJ" and can only see exaggeration in comments such as "they're not the force they were."
"Look it, JJ is irreplaceable. There won't ever be another JJ, but there will be a different type of a JJ," Griffin suggests.
"With a county like Kilkenny, where there's such an abundance of talent, the fella who will be second-best to JJ is bound to be brilliant anyway. So it's not as if they're going to go from hero to zero ... when did that ever happen in Kilkenny? A lot of the general hurling public like to be saying so but unfortunately - I'm sorry - it's not going to happen!"
It's not too many years, he recalls, since Paul Murphy arrived on the scene and there was talk of a "new" Kilkenny corner-back. What happened? "He got an All Star that year."
Griffin, who has been involved in the background of Dunne's new Wexford revolution, is anxious that the county doesn't start expecting overnight miracles on the back of last season's uplifting improvement.
"That was a good summer last year but, whether people like it or not, the expectation of Wexford has to be realistic," he warns. "Liam Dunne is doing a super job trying to keep the thing on the road and blend in new players.
"Essentially it's a young team trying to emerge. Several of these guys have already played in an All-Ireland final in U21 hurling - Wexford weren't in an U21 final since '96, so therefore that's a bit more experience."
But, he reiterates, "you have to be realistic. Wexford needs to be dedicated to a building process, without fear or favour from supporters or fellow players or anybody.
"The U21 team are playing Offaly next week, and that's a fierce important game … they're in a state of development in Wexford, and that cannot be denied.
"I think that Wexford's best years with this team are in front of them," he predicts. "What you're looking for is to build players, to blood them with the experience of playing in a cauldron like they're going to hit at the weekend. You can't buy that, and that is a great learning experience.
"What you're looking for is performance, performance, performance. Now, if that happens to bring you a win, that would be fantastic. But if it doesn't, it's not the end of the world so long as we keep making progress and that Wexford keeps the faith."