Tag Archives: Brian Cody

A good advert for the game, but not a great advert

It came as a relief to those of us looking for a serious discussion of this year’s drawn All-Ireland final – am I the only one to sigh mournfully at losing our most noteworthy contribution to GAA trivia? – that Brian Cody issued a back-handed mea culpa for his ludicrously over-the-top reaction to the free from which Galway equalised. Had it been for the winning score then it might have been understandable, but in the context of a draw it was needlessly incendiary. He had shrugged it off by the time it came to talking to the media though, and he resolutely refused to say anything bad about the referee, so his behaviour didn’t dominate the discussion of the match. Joe Canning waited a couple of days before his comment about Henry Shefflin’s supposed lack of sportsmanship, but he too was saved from a media tsunami of indignation by a hilariously self-pitying contribution from Eddie Keher, his interview best summed up by balls.ie – Eddie Keher Blames Society For Kilkenny Not Winning The All-Ireland. In the end, most of the discussion was about the match.

And what a match it was, laden with intrigue and intensity. This was just as well, because it concealed that the game wasn’t of the highest quality. It was only moderately surprising that Galway hit wide after wide, especially as the game barrelled towards its dramatic conclusion. I’ve seen a quote attributed to George Best where he responds to a friend, who expressed relief upon seeing Roberto Baggio stepping up to take the decisive penalty in the 1994 World Cup that he was glad it wasn’t him (the friend, not George) taking it, by saying that he’d love to be in his (Baggio’s, not the friend’s) position. That’s all very well George but that was only the World Cup at stake, not the All-Ireland, and I almost cried for Joe Canning when he missed a relatively straightforward free in the first minute of injury time that would have levelled matters. Score, and they’ll remember you for years. Miss, and they’ll remember you forever.

His nervousness was understandable. What was Kilkenny’s excuse? As wide after wide piled up you couldn’t help but grumble that had they been this profligate in 2008 we might only have lost by a more respectable 15 points. Then there was the extraordinary decision of Henry Shefflin to take a point when presented with a penalty with only two minutes to go. The scores were level, Henry has an excellent record from that distance and the odds are that any saved shot would ping over the bar for a point or out for a 65. Going for a goal was effectively a free shot to win the All-Ireland yet over it went to the stupefied disbelief of Michael Duignan in the commentary box. Clearly Galway had them rattled and its something the Tribesmen would do well to remember for the replay.

What really struck me about the match was how, shall we say, robust it was. My wife spent most of the game spluttering with outrage as anyone with the sliothar had to wade their way through a forest of limbs and hurleys to try and earn some space. Most of the comment after the game was about how manly it all was – football types routinely lament that their game has become sanitised in comparison to the teak-tough endeavours in the small ball game, and Sunday’s match would be Exhibit A for the prosecution.

But there’s nowt manly about slamming a hurley in front of a man and there’s even less manly about having three or four hurleys fencing a player in. It seems to me, without any empirical evidence to support it, that the rules of hurling have not kept pace with the fitness levels of those playing the game. It has long been obvious in rugby, but watching Iarla Tannian have to hurdle timber every time he won the ball was the first time it ever looked that way in hurling. The great Waterford team of the late 50’s were famed for delightful use of quick ball, but even if you have the skills you need the space in which to perform and there’s no chance a player could do that in the modern game.

Look at the way we send out players lined up from 2-15, left corner-back to right corner-forward. You play the ball towards your man and hope he has the skill and strength to beat his man. That’s the way it is. Except it isn’t anymore. Play the ball into your man and watch him get instantly surrounded by two or three opponents. If he wins the ball, they clamp onto him like leeches and it almost becomes a lottery as to whether the ref will give a free for fouling or for overcarrying. Barry Kelly got most of those 50:50 calls right that day, and perhaps that’s the sign of a great ref that you’re good at predicting coin tosses. But something’s wrong when you’re relying on a referee’s ingrained grasp of subtlety for a game to thrive.

The game was a good day’s work for hurling. All the talk of how hurling is our national sport will be shown up for the cant it is over the next few days as the whole country stares agog at the collective hyperventilation emanating from Mayo and Donegal. So it was nice for a buzz to be generated from a hurling game and to be able to do it all again after the inevitable madness in whatever county triumphs this Sunday has subsided. But the excitement was mostly about the tightness of the result and the possibility that someone was going to take down Goliath. You can’t rely on that every time.

What can we change in hurling? Is it a time for different equipment, or different rules relating to shoulder charges? Would hurling really be so damaged by a little less ‘manly’ contact and a little more room in which players can manoeuvre?  I’ll probably get pilloried for suggesting that the rules of our glory game, codified as they were by Cúchulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill after a clash between the Red Branch Knights and the Fianna with one set of goals on Malin Head and the other on Mizen Head, need to be changed. I’m not convinced though that the game Sunday week last is as good as hurling gets.

To the losers the spoils

Well, that was awesome from Kilkenny – again. What struck me most about seeing them up close and oh-so-personal in 2008 was just how strong they were. Early on in the game Aidan Kearney emerged with the ball and ran into (I think) Eddie Brennan. Kearney flew back like he’d been hit by a collective rugby front row even though he was the one with the momentum. Yes, they have all the skills but it’s the ironman physique that allows them so much space to be able to show off those skills. For all of their underage success, it is Cody’s training methods and his ruthless disposal of those who don’t come up to his high standards that makes this Kilkenny team the greatest of them all. So if you are in your car and you see Brian Cody at a pelican crossing . . . let him cross. But don’t say the thought didn’t cross your mind.

As an aside, the whole premise of the Cork strike two years ago was (of course) about the long-term development of Cork hurling and democracy triumphing over tyranny. But I would suggest that Denis Walsh is a prisoner of those who effectively installed him. Does anyone think the O’Connors or Tom Kenny given their current form would be playing for a Brian Cody team? He would have culled them years ago and their replacements would now be fully-fledged Championship hurlers. Two years lost – at least. But (of course) it was all about principles so the price – how’s that whole five-in-a-row thing that Roy Keane was talking about with a straight face back in 2006 working for ye now? – of Kilkenny motoring away into the All-Ireland distance was worth paying.

As for Waterford, it really does look like a forlorn task for either ourselves or Tipperary. Thrilling and all as their win over Galway was, it’s hard to countenance the team that went toe-to-toe with Kilkenny last year being brought to the brink in that manner, so one must assume that Tipperary have gone backwards. As for ourselves, we are a different outfit to the one slaughtered that fateful day in Croke Park. Whether the less carefree Waterford is a better team is an open question, but at least we won’t be trying the same thing in the hope of a different result. For both teams, the big issue is not Tipperary or Waterford but whether Kilkenny can experience a few more injuries between now and September 5. Not that I’d wish injuries on anyone (of course), but it might be an idea to keep the pedal near the metal should you be passing through Ballyhale.

Waterford 2-17 (23) Kilkenny 1-16 (19)

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(I include this image first because I’m pretty darn chuffed with it. So there.)

In a geeky moment a number of years back when in a job with a lot of down time (God be with the good old days), I compiled a spreadsheet showing Liverpool’s results as a function of how they did against the same opposition the season before, or the equivalent in the case of promoted / relegated teams. So it was particularly crushing on Saturday when the Reds went down to Middlesbrough – a poor result last season was followed up by an even worse result this season and the Spreadsheet of Doom tells me that Liverpool are now a point worse off than at the same stage in 2007/8.

I mention all this because a) beating Kilkenny was just what the doctor ordered after that debacle on Teeside, and b) the never-ending question about the League performances, while not about to be answered here (it is, after all, never-ending) can be given a fresh spin by the notion that in the corresponding match in 2008 Kilkenny cruised to an 11 point win. And before entertaining any guff about Kilkenny not being bothered, remember that a) Kilkenny love to beat down on Waterford and b) Kilkenny players are always under pressure to perform what with the talent waiting in the wings and the thunderstorm awaiting them in the dressing room after the game. Kilkenny gave their best today – and lost. Let’s be happy.

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Especially seeing as it looked like deja vu all over again when Kilkenny roared out of the blocks rattling over three points in the first two minutes, all of which could be attributed to careless play on the part of Waterford whether it be coughing the ball up to their opposite number or poor attempts at a clearance. It was an immense relief when the Cats actually managed a wide – that’s fully 50% of what they managed in September. Waterford even managed to get  few scores but there was a sense in those early exchanges that Kilkenny were far more potent, their points been smacked over the black spot rather than tap-over frees or slurping apologetically over the bar. This was until Eoin Kelly came on for the unfortunate Shane Walsh – perhaps punished for losing the ball after a mazy run in the Kilkenny 45 that was the exemplar of the jennet express – and scored a wonder point, twisting and turning on the uncovered side of the ground then rattling the ball between the posts from what must have been a good 70 metres out as the crow flies.

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It was uplifting stuff, and perhaps Kelly might have struck some great heights had he not been the victim / perpetrator (delete as per bias) of some striking himself. Kelly got into a tussle with Tommy Walsh and before you could squeeze the shutter on the camera a dozen players were piling in. When the dust had settled Kelly, Walsh, Seamus Prendergast and Jackie Tyrrell had gone . . . well, until the latter pair had gone off I didn’t realise the import of the new yellow card rule. Is there any limit on how many yellows you can get? Could you run out of players? Despite the loss of Eoin Kelly and his swashbuckling scores, you felt at the time that Kilkenny were worse off. Stripping them of two of their Triple A defenders when they already had a few new faces back there meant they had to be worse off.

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And as it happened, Waterford had another player determined to take on Kilkenny singlehanded. While Kilkenny continued to behave as if every point had to come with a go-faster stripe painted on it, Ken McGrath was calmly keeping Waterford in touch, slotting over long range frees with splendid monotony. His period in the backs had made me forget just what a sensational forward he is. It’s not just his scoring, it’s the manner in which he ties down opponents like a WWE wrestler being tied down by midgets. Early in the second half he chased a lost ball and flung himself full length to rattle in a shot that PJ Ryan did brilliantly to save – then knocked over the 65. wellboy has been banging the drum for ages about playing Michael Walsh at centre back so as to free Ken up for the forwards. On the basis of this performance, he is entitled to feel smug (although surely not this smug).

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With Kilkenny – dare I say it – in danger of overelaborating and Ken keeping the scoreboard ticking over, Waterford  had incredibly ghosted in front when they then dared to score a goal, Stephen Molumphy benefitting from an impulsive charge off his line by Ryan to kick the ball to the net.

It beggared belief. Waterford were now five points ahead and you could imagine Brian Cody going puce on the sidelines. It was a figurative battle of Cannae, the smaller army retreating before the massed hordes then catching them in a double envelopment movement – guess who has been watching too much of the History Channel recently? A three point half time lead almost felt disappointing, which demonstrated the gap between the pre-match expectations and the half time reality.

After a ridiculously long talking-to from Davy Fitz, Waterford emerged and were . . . pretty flat, actually. Maybe it was the rain but after the hammer-and-tongs first half typified by the brawl, the early second half clashes were more handbags than Hannibal. Only a handful of points were exchanged in the third quarter with a lot of players struggling to keep their feet on the now slick surface. It would take an another – ahem – coming-together to stoke the fires of the match. I’ve dealt with this elsewhere so I’ll just add that something must have happened off camera to have caused the umpire to intervene. It doesn’t excuse Declan Prendergast’s behaviour, and his reward will surely be to miss out on a National League should Waterford win it – at best.

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The tempo seemed to lift after this and Waterford struck what should have been the killer blow when the rangy substitute took the opportunity to make a name for himself. Of all the moments that would have caused the perfectionist Cody to detonate – and if it seems I’m labouring the point, it’s because it’s both wise and true –  the manner of Waterford’s second goal will surely be the worst. Maurice Shanahan showed good composure to steady himself for a shot but the shot itself was poor, more being lucky to hit the post while going wide than being unlucky in missing a point. But Molumphy was first to the ball (Vesuvius) then a second Kilkenny defender charged towards him leaving Dan all alone on the edge of the square (Krakatoa),who showed Fowler-in-his-pomp vision to make the space. Molumphy coolly picked him out and Shanahan Sr coolly slotted it home.

Matches cannot be subdivided into little pieces where if  you can just prevent a goal for thirty seconds then multiply that by 140 you need never concede a goal. So the idea that Waterford might save us all a lot of grief if they could just stop conceding goal straight after scoring them is fanciful. Stuff happens. Still, you can’t help but grind your teeth when watching Richie Power pounce on the loose ball and cut across the goal into an unstoppable position. Kilkenny were bound to close the gap now. But Waterford held their nerve, keeping Kilkenny scoreless for the last five minutes and even getting the insurance scores to make it much less traumatic than it might have been.

It was a deserved win. We’re always told how Kilkenny have battalions waiting in reserve who could beat any team in the country. On the basis of this there is one team they can’t beat. And while Shefflin, Fitzpatrick and their ilk are still to come back, Mullane, Kelly (only ten minutes today) and Browne will be present come the summer. And never forget that winning the NHL, which this result would contribute to – watch as Kilkenny take out all our other rivals! – is result worth acheiving in itself and sod the summer. In the day that Man United landed the League Cup, just ask Liverpool fans.

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Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors, Richie Foley, Michael Walsh, James Murray, Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle (0-1), Gary Hurney, Ken McGrath (0-9, 0-6f, 0-2 65), Stephen Molumphy (1-0), Jack Kennedy, Seamus Prendergast (0-4, 0-3f; Pat Hurney; Maurice Shanahan), Shane Walsh (0-1; Eoin Kelly, 0-1; Dan Shanahan, 1-1)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan, John Dalton, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell (Canice Hickey), Tommy Walsh (TJ Reid), Brian Hogan, James Ryall (0-1), John Tennyson (0-2), Michael Rice (0-1), Eddie Brennan (0-2, 0-1 65), Willie O’Dwyer, Eoin Larkin (0-1), Michael Grace (0-1), Richie Power (1-7, 0-4f), Aidan Fogarty (0-1; Richie Hogan)

HT: Waterford 1-11 (14) Kilkenny 0-11 (11)

Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois)

The Colossus of the Village

Damn you, RTÉ. Before the All-Ireland final, when mulling on the possibility that Waterford might be mullered by Kilkenny, I decided that such an eventuality would be worthy of a post extolling the virtues of one Brian Cody. Then the sports jackets in the Sunday Game studio decided that the man was worthy of being selected as their Man of the Match. Quite apart from being a ridiculous choice that flies in the face of what the Man of the Match award is meant to be about (and one rightly derided by Hurling Blog), it screws up any concept of originality in highlighting Cody’s role in Kilkenny’s success.

But hey, not being original has never stopped me before, so let’s take a moment to genuflect in front of Cody’s greatness. A number of years back it was assumed that burnout was going to become an increasing feature of Gaelic games as the demands of pulling tractors up sand dunes with their teeth (thanks for that, Ger Loughnane) as a minimum requirement for an inter-county player proved overwhelming. Assuming that managers are not being paid (ahem), it would seem reasonable that mentors might feel the same. And no one has been at the coal face as long or as intensely as Brian Cody. In his ten years in charge, Kilkenny have been to the All-Ireland final eight times and been losing semi-finalists the other two years. It’s not as if success is something that keeps managers going. The only other All-Ireland winning managers in that time either left after winning it (Jimmy Barry Murphy and Donal O’Grady) or left the year after (Nicky English and John Allen). The idea of taking a tumble in the League so as not to show your hand before the Championship, supposedly a favourite of managers of all stripes in the past, has beeen scotched by Cody who treats every match as if it has to be won – or else.

The ruthlessness of the man is a wonder to behold. There can’t be a single person in hurling who hasn’t been antagonised by his behaviour at some point. A contributor on An Fear Rua recently quoted Cody as saying that a typical Kilkenny hurler should be honest, thrifty, hard working and other such blarney that fits in with the Kilkenny self-image of their players being Boy Scouts compared to the pencil moustache type townies from Waterford. Yet where were such noble considerations when Cody was exploding with rage at the referee and the linesman against Galway back in 2004, a performance of Alex Ferguson-esque proportions. It’s a question best left to the philosophers: are people like Cody and Demento successful because they are bullies or are they bullies because they are successful? Either way, bullies is what they are.

The thing is, it isn’t just outsiders or officials who Cody clashes with. The faceoff with Charlie Carter in 2004 was one of the more remarkable stories in hurling in recent times. When Cody decided to put Charlie out to pasture, it antagonsied many – most? – in Kilkenny who thought that Charlie’s long years of service were about to be rewarded with a tilt at picking up the McCarthy Cup as captain in September. Cody blithely ignored the doubters, who almost seemed to be hoping he’d fall on his arse. The Charlie Carter page on Wikipedia has a claim that he “has never forgiven Cody”, something I offer not as evidence that this is true but to demonstrate that someone in Kilkenny has not forgotten. They’re probably from Gowran though, because everyone else in the county has been suitably cowed by Cody’s will to win and its by-product.

No doubt Kilkenny’s production line of talent helps, but such riches haven’t helped Tipperary much over recent years. In addition, Kilkenny now look far stronger at this point of their three-in-a-row than at any other point during it. Please, Mr Cody, step off the gas. Take your wife to dinner more often. Have a long holiday out foreign. Generally do the things that, since Gaelic games are supposedly so all-encompassing, mere mortal GAA folk can’t do any more. Either that, or <censored by WordPress>.

The Colossus of the Village

Damn you, RTÉ. Before the All-Ireland final, when mulling on the possibility that Waterford might be mullered by Kilkenny, I decided that such an eventuality would be worthy of a post extolling the virtues of one Brian Cody. Then the sports jackets in the Sunday Game studio decided that the man was worthy of being selected as their Man of the Match. Quite apart from being a ridiculous choice that flies in the face of what the Man of the Match award is meant to be about (and one rightly derided by Hurling Blog), it screws up any concept of originality in highlighting Cody’s role in Kilkenny’s success.

But hey, not being original has never stopped me before, so let’s take a moment to genuflect in front of Cody’s greatness. A number of years back it was assumed that burnout was going to become an increasing feature of Gaelic games as the demands of pulling tractors up sand dunes with their teeth (thanks for that, Ger Loughnane) as a minimum requirement for an inter-county player proved overwhelming. Assuming that managers are not being paid (ahem), it would seem reasonable that mentors might feel the same. And no one has been at the coal face as long or as intensely as Brian Cody. In his ten years in charge, Kilkenny have been to the All-Ireland final eight times and been losing semi-finalists the other two years. It’s not as if success is something that keeps managers going. The only other All-Ireland winning managers in that time either left after winning it (Jimmy Barry Murphy and Donal O’Grady) or left the year after (Nicky English and John Allen). The idea of taking a tumble in the League so as not to show your hand before the Championship, supposedly a favourite of managers of all stripes in the past, has beeen scotched by Cody who treats every match as if it has to be won – or else.

The ruthlessness of the man is a wonder to behold. There can’t be a single person in hurling who hasn’t been antagonised by his behaviour at some point. A contributor on An Fear Rua recently quoted Cody as saying that a typical Kilkenny hurler should be honest, thrifty, hard working and other such blarney that fits in with the Kilkenny self-image of their players being Boy Scouts compared to the pencil moustache type townies from Waterford. Yet where were such noble considerations when Cody was exploding with rage at the referee and the linesman against Galway back in 2004, a performance of Alex Ferguson-esque proportions. It’s a question best left to the philosophers: are people like Cody and Demento successful because they are bullies or are they bullies because they are successful? Either way, bullies is what they are.

The thing is, it isn’t just outsiders or officials who Cody clashes with. The faceoff with Charlie Carter in 2004 was one of the more remarkable stories in hurling in recent times. When Cody decided to put Charlie out to pasture, it antagonsied many – most? – in Kilkenny who thought that Charlie’s long years of service were about to be rewarded with a tilt at picking up the McCarthy Cup as captain in September. Cody blithely ignored the doubters, who almost seemed to be hoping he’d fall on his arse. The Charlie Carter page on Wikipedia has a claim that he “has never forgiven Cody”, something I offer not as evidence that this is true but to demonstrate that someone in Kilkenny has not forgotten. They’re probably from Gowran though, because everyone else in the county has been suitably cowed by Cody’s will to win and its by-product.

No doubt Kilkenny’s production line of talent helps, but such riches haven’t helped Tipperary much over recent years. In addition, Kilkenny now look far stronger at this point of their three-in-a-row than at any other point during it. Please, Mr Cody, step off the gas. Take your wife to dinner more often. Have a long holiday out foreign. Generally do the things that, since Gaelic games are supposedly so all-encompassing, mere mortal GAA folk can’t do any more. Either that, or <censored by WordPress>.

The Colossus of the Village

Damn you, RTÉ. Before the All-Ireland final, when mulling on the possibility that Waterford might be mullered by Kilkenny, I decided that such an eventuality would be worthy of a post extolling the virtues of one Brian Cody. Then the sports jackets in the Sunday Game studio decided that the man was worthy of being selected as their Man of the Match. Quite apart from being a ridiculous choice that flies in the face of what the Man of the Match award is meant to be about (and one rightly derided by Hurling Blog), it screws up any concept of originality in highlighting Cody’s role in Kilkenny’s success.

But hey, not being original has never stopped me before, so let’s take a moment to genuflect in front of Cody’s greatness. A number of years back it was assumed that burnout was going to become an increasing feature of Gaelic games as the demands of pulling tractors up sand dunes with their teeth (thanks for that, Ger Loughnane) as a minimum requirement for an inter-county player proved overwhelming. Assuming that managers are not being paid (ahem), it would seem reasonable that mentors might feel the same. And no one has been at the coal face as long or as intensely as Brian Cody. In his ten years in charge, Kilkenny have been to the All-Ireland final eight times and been losing semi-finalists the other two years. It’s not as if success is something that keeps managers going. The only other All-Ireland winning managers in that time either left after winning it (Jimmy Barry Murphy and Donal O’Grady) or left the year after (Nicky English and John Allen). The idea of taking a tumble in the League so as not to show your hand before the Championship, supposedly a favourite of managers of all stripes in the past, has beeen scotched by Cody who treats every match as if it has to be won – or else.

The ruthlessness of the man is a wonder to behold. There can’t be a single person in hurling who hasn’t been antagonised by his behaviour at some point. A contributor on An Fear Rua recently quoted Cody as saying that a typical Kilkenny hurler should be honest, thrifty, hard working and other such blarney that fits in with the Kilkenny self-image of their players being Boy Scouts compared to the pencil moustache type townies from Waterford. Yet where were such noble considerations when Cody was exploding with rage at the referee and the linesman against Galway back in 2004, a performance of Alex Ferguson-esque proportions. It’s a question best left to the philosophers: are people like Cody and Demento successful because they are bullies or are they bullies because they are successful? Either way, bullies is what they are.

The thing is, it isn’t just outsiders or officials who Cody clashes with. The faceoff with Charlie Carter in 2004 was one of the more remarkable stories in hurling in recent times. When Cody decided to put Charlie out to pasture, it antagonsied many – most? – in Kilkenny who thought that Charlie’s long years of service were about to be rewarded with a tilt at picking up the McCarthy Cup as captain in September. Cody blithely ignored the doubters, who almost seemed to be hoping he’d fall on his arse. The Charlie Carter page on Wikipedia has a claim that he “has never forgiven Cody”, something I offer not as evidence that this is true but to demonstrate that someone in Kilkenny has not forgotten. They’re probably from Gowran though, because everyone else in the county has been suitably cowed by Cody’s will to win and its by-product.

No doubt Kilkenny’s production line of talent helps, but such riches haven’t helped Tipperary much over recent years. In addition, Kilkenny now look far stronger at this point of their three-in-a-row than at any other point during it. Please, Mr Cody, step off the gas. Take your wife to dinner more often. Have a long holiday out foreign. Generally do the things that, since Gaelic games are supposedly so all-encompassing, mere mortal GAA folk can’t do any more. Either that, or <censored by WordPress>.

Waterford 1-13 (16) Kilkenny 3-30 (39)

First things first. To be present at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was an honour and a privilege. When asked in the past whether I had ever been to an All-Ireland final, I would routinely quip that I wasn’t going to go until Waterford were there – and hence I didn’t expect to ever get there. Yet here we were, standing in the midst of the biggest throng I have ever been in, and probably ever will be, soaking up the pre-match atmosphere. I don’t mind admitting that when the team ran out onto the Croke Park turf the wave of emotion was almost overwhelming. The siblings, dotted around various other parts of the ground, would later confess to similar feelings of disbelief. We all simultaneously vowed to gorge ourselves on the heady vapours, armed as we were with the knowledge that this might be as good as it got.

Yes, to be there was a splendid thing. Arriving in Dublin around midday, the city centre was mobbed by people donning the white and the blue. Despite this, the only two people I encountered who I knew were Kilkenny folk, one a soccer man who was wearing a shirt from the 1993 Leinster final – Mahon McPhillips were probably sponsoring his trip. All through the summer I’ve forlornly noted how few people I recognise in the crowd shots that populate the Munster Express and the News & Star after a big match. A stranger in his own land if ever there was one, and these incidents only add to the sense of disconnection that nearly five years abroad brings.

Not that I was thinking that at the time, because the atmosphere was enough to banish any negative thoughts. Waterford people were everywhere, and our usual haunt – Molloy’s on Talbot Street – seemed to be the epicentre of this ubiquity. Standing there with all my nearest and dearest – not always the same thing, ho ho – watching images of the heroes of 2008 flitting past on the big screen, it felt so good to be alive. Nothing was going to ruin this day.

There must have been some portion of the deepest part of my psyche, the part which still can’t watch horror movies and in which memories of Arsenal’s title win over Liverpool in 1989 are entombed, that gazed upon all this miracle and wonder and thought “if this is the effect it’s all having on me, how must the players be doing?” The only article that I read from the voluminous match supplements in the local rags – nice souvenirs if you win; rabbit hutch liner if you don’t – was an interview with Brian Whelehan where the Offaly player, twice a winner but twice a loser on All-Ireland final day, confessed that he never really enjoyed the occasion for itself. The nerves were so shredded that it was impossible to savour anything. The fans can enjoy the presentation of the players to the President or the parade or the performing of Amhrán na bhFiann – having it performed by a singer was surprisingly moving; it allowed the whisperers (ahem) to really belt it out – but the players must hate every minute of it. How you cope with these moments must contribute to your overall performance. Is knowledge power or ignorance bliss?

The match got underway, although not before my ever-alert wife had noted Eoin McGrath shipping some timber from his marker. Kilkenny opened the scoring with a free only for Eoin Kelly to respond in kind, then Eoin McGrath carved out an opening and put Waterford in front. In front in an All-Ireland final! Or had he? The crowd on the Hill, usually a good barometer of these things, were convinced he had scored as had the scoreboard operator, but the umpire waved it wide and the scoreboard was duly corrected. Dark thoughts rose up unbidden that this might be decisive in the endgame.

It soon became clear that Kilkenny were not leaving decisions like that in the lap of the umpires, opting instead to send each and every ball over the middle of the crossbar. Points were casually pinned on with only the odd Eoin Kelly free keeping Waterford ticking over. It is not an exaggeration to say that I looked up at the scoreboard when it was 0-10 to 0-4 and could not believe that only fifteen minutes had passed. Ten scores in fifteen minutes? It didn’t seem possible, and already you could see the match was slipping away from us. We were competing well enough under the dropping ball, with Tony Browne and Eoin Murphy in particular having some success, but what was happening when they moved to clear the ball was that a tsunami of Black and Amber was bowling them over.

The astonishing thing about Kilkenny was their power. Speaking to my Laois ticket contact the evening before the match, he suggested that Brian Cody was adopting a football tactic of a swarm defence, and this was perfectly believable as Waterford’s players found themselves surrounded at every turn. Much effort may have been expended in the latter half of the summer by Davy Fitzgerald in getting the players to concentrate on acquiring space before attempting to clear, but this seemed moot when any movement along any compass point led to you running into two more Cats. Never have I seen so many attempted clearances charged down, and each failure must have eroded the already fragile confidence further. The most chilling vignette was an echo of an incident that I picked up on the League match back in the spring. Back then, Michael Rice held off the challenge of Ken McGrath with ease before knocking the ball over the bar. This day it saw Aidan Kearney racing along the endline to try and get space to clear only to be sent flying out for a 65. You watched it live and thought that it must be a foul, but the replays on the big screen showed how clean a hit it was. You barely had time to dwell on the shock of a defender being mown down by a forward before the 65 sailed over the bar.

Even in games where the gulf in class is so wide, the fact that you start level means that it takes a while for the gulf to become obvious. So you could cling to the notion that Kilkenny might ease up, that Waterford might shake off the fog and get back into it. Such thoughts were rudely disabused soon enough as Eddie Brennan rattled in two quickfire goals to finish the game as a contest. The second goal was particularly painful, Clinton Hennessy saving brilliantly at Shefflin’s feet only for Brennan to rattle ball along the ground into the net.

I had visualised a range of possible outcomes from this match beforehand, ranging from Waterford nicking victory with a late surge having kept pace with Kilkenny against the odds, to Kilkenny piling on the style in the second half and running out handsome winners by 15-20 points. Never in my worst nightmares had I contemplated this, having to settle for damage limitation midway through the first half. It’s not just that we’ve not had to face the prospect for a long time – one double digit championship defeat in 12 years. Even counties like Offaly and Wexford, who we scoffed at for failing to put it up to Kilkenny, had kept in some kind of touch for the first half. The range of positive options available to us now was almost too ghastly to envisage. Avoid a 31+ point beating. Not have a player lose the rag and get sent off. Score a point from play! When Eoin Kelly got a free just outside the large square, you almost wondered whether he should take the guaranteed point. As it was, his shot was saved and the rebound should have been buried by Eoin McGrath. You know a player at the other end would have done so, in the manner that Brennan had done.

The euphoria of the build-up meant that leaving early was never an option, and everyone else seemed to agree as the crowd stayed robust. The Kilkenny fans generally kept to themselves, the tulip who nearly caused a riot early in the first half by repeatedly asking a Waterford woman with a child whether she wanted to open her whatsit for him being mercifully the exception. Stubborn to the last, people only had to wait ten minutes into the second half for Waterford to register that blessed point from play, John Mullane finally doing the business after a build-up that might have ended in a goal. It was as if such an affront enraged Kilkenny so much that they decided to weigh in with a goal of their own, Eoin Larkin being given the freedom of the inside of the 45 to saunter in and smash the ball past Hennessy.

The 31+ point beating was not to materialise, for reasons only some of which do credit to Waterford. Nor did the feared sending-off, although Kevin Moran could probably count himself lucky late on. They did keep trying as individuals, with Mullane in particular grinding away to some effect. But the ease with which Kilkenny were stroking over points meant they never had to go for the goals that would have heaped a few more aftershocks on to the earthquake. They definitely eased off the gas, although this wasn’t entirely patronising to Waterford – as stated, the Waterford players did keep trying, and there isn’t much point in busting a gut or risking an injury when the game is already in the bag.

The one truly head-patting moment had an ironic coda. James McGarry came on for PJ Ryan to much applause from the Kilkenny faithful. It was all very nice, and I suppose Waterford hadn’t earned the right to be outraged at such a gesture. At this point I wasn’t aware that Kilkenny hadn’t shipped a goal all Championship, so it was only afterwards that I was able to chuckle at the sight of McGarry providing a firm touch to an Eoin Kelly shot on its way into the net. Not that it made any substantive difference as Kilkenny finished with a trio of quick points which said it all about the way they could have toyed with us had they been so inclined.

The worst part of it all is that the feeling is only going to get worse. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, it wasn’t so bad. It had been obvious from a loooong way out that we were doomed, which at least had the virtue of not getting our hopes up. Had we lost having come agonisingly close, in much the manner we did against Cork in 2006, it would have been sickening for days afterwards. But you’d have gotten over it before too long. This, on the other hand, is going to reverberate for ages. Quite apart from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that will be talking about GAA online for the forseeable future, the prospects for Waterford hurling suddenly look rather bleak. The All-Ireland, the only thing that will satisfy us after the success of the last decade, looks further away than it ever did.

Still. This is what it means to be in with the big boys. To have half of the mightiest stage of them all, for those heavenly twenty minutes when anything seemed possible . . . it was totally worth it.

Waterford: Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast (Tom Feeney), Aidan Kearney, Tony Browne, Ken McGrath, Kevin Moran, Michael Walsh (capt), Jamie Nagle (Shane O’Sullivan), Dan Shanahan (Dave Bennett, 0-1), Seamus Prendergast (Jack Kennedy), Stephen Molumphy, Eoin McGrath (Paul Flynn), Eoin Kelly (1-9, 0-9f), J Mullane (0-3)

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan (James McGarry) Michael Kavanagh, Noel Hickey, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney; James Fitzpatrick (capt,0-2), Derek Lyng (0-3), Martin Comerford (TJ Reid, 0-4), Richie Power (0-2), Eoin Larkin (1-4); Eddie Brennan (2-4), Henry Shefflin (0-8, 0-5f, 0-1 65), Aidan Fogarty (0-3)

HT: Waterford 0-6 (6) Kilkenny 2-16 (22)

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)