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Analysis: Despite the blip, Kilkenny still not far from purr-fection

by Aidan Elder | September 8, 2012

ALL POWERFUL: Richie Power celebrated the 2006 All-Ireland win with his floating Jesus impression (pic: Inpho)

By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer

July 8 2012.
It was meant to be a momentous day in the history of hurling. Kilkenny were down, out and destroyed. The dynasty was dying. The Mayans may not have mentioned the Cats’ downfall specifically as a sign the world was about to end, but it certainly had that ‘shaking our fundamental beliefs’ feeling to it. Galway’s astonishing performance showed Brian Cody’s men weren’t just beatable, they were ordinary. ‘A world where Kilkenny can get hammered?’ It felt like one of those ridiculous notions you get in bizarre parallel universes. Planet Jedward perhaps.

That Leinster Final day was a watershed moment, but not for the reasons many presumed. The obituaries have had to be filed away. They’re not needed and possibly won’t be for a few years yet. In the manner you’d expect from true greats, they bounced right. If the hammering at the hands of the Tribesmen was Kilkenny’s Rattle and Hum moment, they came right back with an Achtung Baby. They kicked clear of Limerick as if merely being in a quarter-final was an insult to their brilliance and then sent out the warning shot of all warning shots by dismantling their fierce rivals from Tipperary in the semi-final.

Clearly there’s not a whole lot wrong with the set-up, but the defeat to Galway has provoked some wider questions about Kilkenny. At some point Tommy Walsh will be too long in the tooth to scare the life out of opposition forwards. There will be a time when there isn’t enough petrol in the tank to get JJ Delaney up and down the pitch. And – as unpalatable as it sounds – we will come to a day when we’ll no longer see the ginger mane of Henry Shefflin sneaking out from under his green helmet. Where exactly is this generation in their life cycle?

The Paddy Power Blog has had a look at how the 2012 vintage compares with the sides we’ve seen since this sequence of seven All-Ireland finals and five victories began in 2006.

The evidence suggests they’re still operating towards the top of their high standards. There’s little data to illustrate a decline. The size of the defeat to Galway was a shock, but subsequent games have shown that it was a blip rather than the Cats running out of lives. The pundits often like to point to the vague concept of ‘hunger’ as an explanation for a team’s success or failure. As if one set of players ‘wanted it’ more than life itself while the others just weren’t that arsed.

Not found wanting

It terms of ‘wanting it’, the Cats seem as focussed as ever. They’ve scored to similar levels as their peak years. Aside from the bumper year of 2008 when they averaged nearly 33 points a game, 2012 is right up there in terms of racking up the tallies. This year they’ve averaged 27 points per game, slightly less than the 2007 average of 27.8 but ahead of the 25 that counts as a low by the Cats’ high expectations.

The average score totals for each year can be misleading. They can be inflated by a couple of big wins or dragged down by low-scoring, but nonetheless convincing performances. The average winning margin is probably more use in gauging how they handled what was put against them. Again 2008 is the standout season in terms of the size of the victories, but this Championship summer isn’t far behind.

Helped by trouncing Wexford in the Leinster Final and handing Waterford their biggest embarrassment since Gilbert O’Sullivan in the All-Ireland Final, they beat teams by an average of 17.25 points in 2008. This year, when they have won, they’ve done so with similar authority, averaging a 15 point gap by the time the referee called a halt to the pummellings.

The very reason Galway can take heart going into the final is the same reason they need to be afraid. They didn’t wake a sleeping giant on Leinster Final day so much as crapped on his doorstep and rubbed his nose in it. The Tribesmen were ferocious and ruthless that day. Thanks to themselves, they will need to be the same all over again this Sunday to beat Kilkenny.

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