I AM no connoisseur of hurling.
But I do believe that I would know the difference between what some might call a classic and a mediocre offering.
For 35 minutes and a bit of first half injury time, Saturday’s All-Ireland Senior Final was as good a display of the beautiful game as I have ever witnessed.
I wouldn’t dare to consider myself an aficionado of a game that is usually a privilege to watch.
But for the entire opening period of a showdown that was being heralded as too close to call I was tickled pink, absolutely blown away by the unbelievable skills, courage and work rate of our boys in black and amber.
Sport may not always reach its zenith but for a magical spell of sheer class, the hurlers of Kilkenny pushed the game of Cú Chulainn to a height that it may never have reached. before.
Young and young at heart may cite games of another time that rivaled the weekend’s showpiece for magnificence.
The spectacular Kilkenny performance was akin to a blockbuster film, a brilliantly choreographed box office hit, a riveting open air stage show, meticulously directed, yet free in its desire to take creativity to its innovative extremes.
Kilkenny’s display was perfection personified, a drill display of military-style precision, an awesome mix of thrilling moves, shrewdly mapped out.
The game had a Jack Charlton hue to it: Put ‘em under pressure.
A CONORTIONIST BLUSH
The Cats displayed daring vibrancy, amazing accuracy and superb execution of stylish and courageous actions that would make a contortionist blush.
What made our Cats’ version of The Greatest Show on Earth so special is that its skillful rival Clare was reduced to a spectator as Kilkenny courted the Oscars of Sport with the kind of passion that Adam and Eve displayed in the Garden of Eden.
Kilkenny love of the game was that emotional on an evening when the Cats were in danger of being written off in a tempestuous yet at times tepid championship campaign.
They diced with a see-saw crusade, a game of snakes and ladders that could have led to a vale of tears or a cup of cheers.
Young Mikey Butler was a revelation as he put the shackles on Clare’s Tony Kelly, an acknowledged scoring machine who many believe could unlock the gates of Fort Knox.
Mikey was a shining light, a candidate for Young Player of the Year.
But our wonderful bundle of energy would no doubt be the first to remind that he was surrounded by a constellation of stars, all of whom hit a high note together as Brian Cody’s hurling orchestra reached a new level of virtuosity.
DARLING OF OLD TRAFFORD
TJ Reid, the master of hurling craftsmanship gave the kind of scintillating hurling performance that earned George Best, the darling of Old Trafford, millions of admirers at another time.
Ballyhale Shamrocks Eight Wonder of the world was a high flier, a magician in aerial duels, a genius who was impossible to pin down, a dead ball delight and an expert of combining with others to complement his own cleverness by sharing his undoubted acumen to help tear holes in defensive barricades.
For different reasons, all of Cody’s crusaders had accumulated Man of the Match credentials by half time.
Eoin Murphy in goal was superb. Huw Lawlor was out of this world. Richie Reid was a Beckenbauer-like central defender. Michael Carey was a chip off the old block.
The Walsh brothers Padraig and Tommy were super. Paddy Deegan was a warrior. Billy Ryan, Eoin Cody, Martin Keoghan and Conor Browne all made vital contributions to a fairytale-like first half that practically ensured a possible date with the MacCarthy Cup in two weeks’ time.
And then there was Adrian Mullen, along with new kid on the block Cian Kenny.
Mullen is a young man bursting with skill and determination and that he and his team mate TJ Reid were vying for the title of top player says it all about a superstar of the future.
STEPHENS WONDER KID
James Stephens wonder kid Kenny has hurling blood in his veins.
His great grandad Mick Kenny captained Kilkenny hurlers to victory in 1957 and led John Lockes of Callan to county senior hurling glory.
He is, with respect, learning his trade. That he is a quick learner is obvious.
He is a boy among men but shrewd observers believe he will be a mighty man of many hurling crusades.
Clare upped the ante in half two but, although the tempo eased somewhat as gaffer Cody emptied the subs’ bench, the Cats never let the Banner chew into their sizeable lead and ran out convincing and deserving winners.
The well-oiled hurling machine that Cats’ supporters have become accustomed to over the years is back in full throttle.
Doubting Thomases and there were quite a few before the weekend confrontation, will have enjoyed their Sunday lunch of humble pie.
Huge credit for the gargantuan display has to be shared by the stubborn management team and selectors who will have known full well that the Good Ship Kilkenny was listing at times but refused to abandon the crew.
RULING THE WAVES
Not only is the rejuvenated ship back in safe waters but it is now powering towards ruling the waves of championship hurling by welcoming on board an old friend of our city, Liam MacCarthy.
Standing between Kilkenny and yet another All-Ireland crown on July 17 will be Limerick who finally saw off the challenge of King Henry’s Galway in the Sunday Game.
There was very little between the teams in the second ‘semi’ and it would be fair to say that the JP McManus-supported Treaty got over the line by a short head over 75 minutes.
Verdict has to be that Limerick is good, very good, but is far from invincible.
If our Cats can repeat the form they showed in the first half against Clare then they will be away on a hack.
The final won’t be an easy ride for either county so it will be a case of whichever horse jumps the final ditch relishing the spoils.
Clare went to Croker full of confidence but Kilkenny had the choice of a selection of pins to burst its bubble.
For what promises to be a thunder ‘n’ lightning war of attrition, it will be all hands to the pumps for the black and amber and the notion is that it is our Cats that will reach the Everest of hurling ahead of the Munster champs.
God is good, but you must keep the Devil at arm’s length.