I WAS WALKING out of the Hogan Stand on Sunday evening at 20 to six when I heard a car horn sound behind me, and a Garda gently reminded me why they had gone to the trouble of building the footpaths in the first place.
It only dawned on me afterwards that at 5.40 after the football final, Jones Road was like the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
This weekend, cars were moving up and down past Croker less than three quarters of an hour after the last blow was struck.
There were a few supporters still in Gills at the top of the road, but for the guards, and for Kilkenny, it was very much… business as usual.
Then again Donegal are not too used to winning All-Irelands, and Kilkenny are. They’re used to winning them, they’re used to celebrating them in their own way, and they’re very much used to walking away from days like yesterday with an “I-told-you-so” look in their eye. It was a pretty cruel, pretty soul-destroying experience for Galway people yesterday, no doubt.
I was at home for the weekend so we drove back on Sunday morning in a heaving cavalcade of supporters on the motorway, and we all traveled in hope… some of us (me included) even traveled in expectation.
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin celebrates his ninth all Ireland medal after the game. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
But Kilkenny were quite simply outstanding, and in every area were they fell down three weeks ago, they were supreme. Colm Parkinson said a very interesting thing last week on Off the Ball in the aftermath of the All-Ireland football final — he said you’d love to play Donegal three times in the space of a few weeks, to try and learn the tiny variations and answer the big questions that they ask of you as a team.
Galway played a very specific brand of hurling this year — and Kilkenny, after three games, cracked the code. They got the chance that has thus far been denied Donegal’s opponents. In the Leinster final, Galway moved their forwards around constantly and were 15 points up before Brian Cody knew what had hit him. In the first edition of the All-Ireland final, Kilkenny went man-for-man and closed down the majority of the Galway forwards, only to be let down by their own attackers, Henry Shefflin aside.
Yesterday they played Cillian Buckley in the role that Richie Hogan was ill-suited for in the drawn game, they got their match-ups fine-tuned, and the Galway forwards didn’t score a point from play until the 70thminute. And, of course, the players who had let Brian Cody and Henry down three weeks ago, repaid their faith in them by delivering much improved performances.
They are a really extraordinary team.
I thought that they had reached their peak three or four years ago and that the true genius of Cody was really to be seen in the last two years, when he managed to squeeze two All-Irelands out of a team that under another manager would have slipped away from the top of the pile. But there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for them. They remorselessly gather these things.
Cody said last year that that was his sweetest victory. Shefflin said something similar in the aftermath of Sunday’s game.
The ninth All-Ireland medal was obviously a huge thing for Henry — and while there aren’t many people still alive who can make this statement with any great degree of certainty, people of my vintage, and probably quite a bit older, have never seen anyone better than him and won’t believe that there was ever anyone better.
The fact that he now has nine All-Irelands gives us proof that our eyes never needed, that he is the greatest hurler of all time. He’s 33, he would be my Hurler of the Year, there’s not even a question to be asked in relation to him and retirement. He’ll be back next year, caring about it every bit as much.
And as for his manager? Well, last week we were talking in the office about some odds we saw on last Sunday being Cody’s last ever game in charge. It was 7/1, which looked a pretty decent bet to me.
Maybe if Kilkenny had squeaked over the line, led by Henry but with the same flat performances we saw from some other key men, Cody might have considered walking out on a high. But given the performances of Richie Hogan, Richie Power and Michael Fennelly, and of young Walter Walsh, Cody might again be forgiven for thinking that not only does his toast never land on the buttered side when he drops it, but that he always puts a plate down there before it had fallen without even knowing it.
Everything the man touches turns to gold.
Remember that the last manager who experienced this kind of success — Micko — stayed on three years too long. He won his last All-Ireland in 1986 and he didn’t retire as Kerry manager until 1989. Very few of the greats know when to walk away. Cody will stick around until the inevitable day when he will be vulnerable. And that is a very, very scary thought because that day looks to be in the pretty dim and distant future.
Everyone wanted Galway to win. I was desperate for them to win. But, as we have all learned, that is what Kilkenny do. Sometimes joylessly, but remorselessly, they win.
And so the sporting agenda moves on — over the rim of my pints on Sunday night I watched Europe win the Ryder Cup in the most extraordinary fashion. Leinster play Munster in the Aviva next Saturday. But when the time comes in January, for the FBD League or the Walsh Cup, or whatever, we’ll be waiting, impatiently.