Eoin Larkin leaves Ken McGrath and Tony Browne trailing in his wake.   | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Eoin Larkin leaves Ken McGrath and Tony Browne trailing in his wake. | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Not my words but those of John O’Shea, the GOAL man who knows his sport and loves it, in the hours following Kilkenny’s “perfect 10” All-Ireland.

Some will argue that the runaway nature of the victory was no good for anyone and that it’s bad for hurling. I disagree.

For one thing Kilkenny’s annihilation of the opposition – let us not patronise Waterford by pretending it was anything else – served to bring more judges on side in rating them the greatest of all time. And they deserve that recognition.

Some, this writer included, didn’t need Sunday’s performance to convince on that score. Limerick’s Tom Ryan described them in the lead-up to the game as the All Blacks of hurling and as the best team “living or dead”.

After the match, people like Nicky Brennan and, to his great credit Waterford’s Jimmy O’Gorman despite his raw disappointment, acknowledged that they were the best they had ever seen. So did others.

Now their memories go back a long way and would include the Tipp side of the early sixties and the Eddie Keher led Kilkenny of a decade later, undoubtedly magnificent outfits both and the best of the rest. But the video tells us how the game has speeded up since and how much faster players must apply the skills of the game, not to mention the more varied and sophisticated tactics employed. And as standards improve in all sports where performance can be measured in terms of time or distance, it is only logical to assume, even if we didn’t believe our eyes, that the same applies in field games.

If, by some chance, we had no means of measuring time, there would be those who would try to convince us Ronnie Delaney was the fastest thing on two legs, ever.

Nobody would insult the hurling greats of the past by suggesting they might not be as good as today’s men if they engaged in the same training and preparation and fitness regimes. But they can only be judged as they played the game, against today’s teams as they play it. And on that basis there’s no room for doubt.


Rising standards


Some will argue that Kilkenny’s wide margin win leaves them so far ahead that the rest will lose interest, as will the spectators. Not at all.

Waterford are not going to lie down and quit on account of the nature of their defeat. It will take time for the pain to ease and for confidence to be restored. But my guess is that they will be more determined than ever to rise again and prove themselves.

It will have to be with a sprinkling of new players; they have been a few short all along, despite the Munster and league successes. But if Davy stays on – and like most others I hope he does – he will coach and coax them to high standards and forge a potent mix of new and old which will ensure the Deise continues to be a force. (It would help if they could start producing winning minor teams of course and in that regard maybe they should grab a copy of the Kilkenny manual on under-age development).

The gap to Kilkenny’s standards is wide admittedly, but that applies to all the other counties too. And Cork, Tipp or Galway won’t just fold their tents on account of that. Neither, for that matter, will Limerick, Offaly, Wexford or Dublin. Kilkenny’s ever rising standards will surely force them into more urgent action.

Hurling hasn’t gone backwards, remember. It is just that Kilkenny have leaped forward and my reading of the situation is that the other counties will be stung into redoubling their efforts in an attempt to catch up. All of which can only be good for the quality of the game into the future.

As great as Kilkenny are and despite the apparent never-ending supply line, there will come a time when other truly gifted teams will emerge and the championship will again be played on a level field, as it were.

Knowledgeable hurling people – not just Kilkenny supporters – marvelled at Sunday’s brilliant performance and were thankful to be there to witness it. Others complained of a wasted day and a “useless” match. But the same people would rave over Man United winning a cup final by five goals, or the league year after year. Not that it’s fair to compare Man U with Kilkenny – soccer is at a major disadvantage in the entertainment stakes.


Bitter memories


Anyway, back to the All-Ireland. For Waterford it was depressingly reminiscent of those Munster final collapses of ’82 and ’83 against Cork. As the hammering unfolded, it seemed that everything which could go wrong did go wrong and the men in blue and white, as somebody wrote in one of Monday’s papers, looked like a group of junior club players who met for the first time on the way to Dublin.

But Waterford are way better than they looked. Just like Jim Greene and Pat McGrath and other fine players all those years ago, they couldn’t do themselves justice as everything unravelled about them.

President McAleese, having shaken hands with the players, told the GAA President before the game that the Deise lads were very tense. That makes perfect sense, because they played accordingly, not expressing themselves at all like they would normally do.

The pressure definitely got to them. Despite some believing otherwise, there was loads of it, with all the hype and a build-up more intense and expectant than ever experienced before, in any county.

Mind you, despite all their big day experience, they had never previously met with the kind of marking intensity that Kilkenny apply on All-Ireland day. No player was given an inch in possession and there was little they could do about it as the champions hassled and harried when they had to, before engaging their supreme hurling skills to hit the killer scores.

It has to be said in all honesty that even if Waterford were at their very best – which they haven’t been since last year’s magnificent replayed quarter-final defeat of Cork – they would still be considerably inferior to Kilkenny. There would be no humiliation however.

Footnote: Now that the championship is over, when is the GAA and its referees going to take a stand to rid its games of assaults on the field before games and off the ball during them? Talk about bringing their own sports into disrepute!

It’s described as the softening-up process and has become accepted as part and parcel of hurling and football. In fact it is thuggish behaviour which should have no place on the field of play. By all means, players should hit as hard as they like within the rules while on the ball – indeed that’s an essential ingredient for riveting spectacles. But digging the ribs with timber while the ball is at the other end of the field! Why should that be allowed?

One day a victim will respond in spades and somebody will be seriously hurt.