Stars and Stripes not forever

Frank Abagnale Sr: You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Abagnale Jr: ‘Cause they have Mickey Mantle?
Frank Abagnale Sr: No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

Much later in the film Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo Di Caprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr is trying to spin his father’s line on the awesome power of the aura surrounding the New York Yankees to Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Hanratty is unmoved. “The Yankees win because they have Mickey Mantle”. For evidence of how correct he is over those who invest so much in the benefits of mystique, you only had to look at Kilkenny finally succumbing to a well-placed stake through the heart. It’s no disrespect to Walter Walsh to say that he is not Eddie Brennan. Seriously, it is not disrespectful, few players in the history of the game are up to Eddie Brennan’s level. Take a player of the calibre of Eddie Brennan/Mickey Mantle out of your team and it doesn’t matter whether the stripes are of the black-and-amber or pin variety, you’re going to be weakened. Brian Cody has been deftly weaving new players into the pattern for over a decade now, but the longer you go the more likely the probability that your new weave will unravel, and so it happened yesterday.

If you were only getting your hurling from the sages of The Sunday Game though, you’d have to believe that what happened yesterday was inexplicable. Even someone as unversed in the dark arts of hurling as myself could see the Cats were in trouble. They squeaked past Offaly, got beaten at the second attempt by Dublin, something you never ever do, beat a Tipperary team that has now lost three Championship games on the bounce, and let slip a five-point lead in the space of eight minutes to a Waterford team that never ever gives Kilkenny a game. How much more evidence do you need that Kilkenny are not the force they were? Yet before the game you had Michael Duignan blithely asserting that they were back in the groove. Based on what? Yes, they showed some composure in the extra-time against Waterford. But that was against a team that had put ninety minutes of effort into seventy. Every close shave was not proof that there were weaker, it was proof that the other teams couldn’t stop staring at those damn stripes.

However, this was nothing in comparison to the post-match blarney. Surely in the aftermath of the fourth game this year where Kilkenny were not ahead after seventy minutes, there would be some acknowledgement that the facts of hurling had now changed. Instead, Cyril, Liam and Tomás behaved as if the result had been but a flesh wound. The red card had been decisive, the ref lost control, he made several decisions which aided Cork. Such focus on the ref allowed them to pretend that if they were to play again in the morning, Kilkenny would bounce right back. It was as if they were afraid that if they were suggest that the Kilkenny juggernaut had finally run out of fuel, they’d come right back at you and prove you wrong. Because that’s what Kilkenny do, they prove you wrong!

Except they can’t. They can’t come back and prove you wrong. That’s because they’re out. There might be something to be said for not dumping on a great team, but there were times when I thought Liam Sheedy might burst into tears. Come on, pundits. We’re entering a scary new world where Kilkenny were not all-conquering and you won’t be able to fall back on predicting them to win to show how wise you are. Embrace it. You might even enjoy it. I know I will.

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