Thursday 18 January 2018

Kilkenny's lack of depth exposed

Kilkenny's injured ace Michael Fennelly congratulates Tipp's Pádraic Maher Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Kilkenny's injured ace Michael Fennelly congratulates Tipp's Pádraic Maher Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Séamus Kennedy may be a year-one rookie when it comes to inter-county hurling, but the former Tipperary footballer is a fair man to summarise a game.

Or, at least, Kennedy hit the bullseye when describing the winning and losing of yesterday's All-Ireland SHC decider.

"If you're hitting it into Bubbles (O'Dwyer), John McGrath, (Séamus) Callanan, if you give them any sort of a ball, they're going to do damage," he explained. "So that was our job - get it to them as best we could - and in fairness the boys did the business.

"Defence starts from the top, and I think we put them under pressure all over the field. I think the turnovers the forwards did just filtered all the way back through, so we're delighted with that."

And delighted with a nine-point victory that will erase much of the Kilkenny-inflicted pain that Tipperary have endured since they last climbed the Hogan steps in 2010.

Still, for every exultant winner you will find a numbed loser and Kilkenny are now facing the reality of an overhaul that looks far more daunting than the one supposedly faced six years ago.

Then, Brian Cody made a nonsense of all the loose end-of-an-era talk that followed. Yet he did so with a team that still included all-time legends such as Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney plus a handful of other bona fide heroes and some younger players such as Richie Hogan and TJ Reid who would become leaders of the next great Kilkenny team.

Yesterday, along with Tommy's younger brother Pádraig Walsh, Hogan carried the fight with some pinpoint passes and a bullet-like goal.

But they couldn't do it alone. The stricken Michael Fennelly, if fit, would have made a difference. But a nine-point one?

While Reid was typically flawless from placed balls, and caught a few aerial deliveries, he struggled to exert any sustained influence. Story of TJ's summer.

Far more worrying, for Kilkenny, is the relative dearth of young guns putting their hands up to become the stripey stars of tomorrow. This is the inevitable result, you could argue, of the county's recent fall-off at minor and U21 level.

Cody is often lauded for his ability to pluck a relative unknown (such as Walter Walsh in 2012) and unleash him onto the big stage at just the right time. But Cody can only do so much.

That said, he could have done more yesterday.

The Kilkenny supremo has never been quick to empty his bench; but to have waited until the 60th minute for his only double-substitution, in a game where Tipp were dominating so many individual duels, was either an indictment of management or the most glaring of commentaries on the shallowness of Kilkenny's bench. Or a bit of both.

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