I was honoured to be in Croke Park on the 9th of September to watch a great All Ireland Hurling final. Anyone who was there had to respect Galway and Kilkenny, even when the standard dipped in the second half, the excitement of a close final allowed the roars to only grow louder, in accordance with the groans, screams and animated faces of a perfectly mixed crowd.
In the meanwhile, two of the most talked about hurlers of a generation faced off on the legendary sod, both scoring 12 points (1-9 for Joe Canning and 0-12 for Henry Shefflin) including a last gasp free (probably not a foul but Galway deserved it) by the former that has the country buzzing, allowing the match to be the first Hurling final to end in a draw in over a half century.
Since then, all has been quiet. Until, we heard from Master Canning today, criticizing the King Shefflin of unsportsmanlike behaviour –
“In one instance in the first half, Henry ran 30 or 40 yards down the field and was giving out to Barry Kelly and Damien Hayes for a free. That’s not sportsmanlike either at the same stage. That’s the way it goes – that’s probably the experience they (Kilkenny) have.” In addition, the Portumna sharpshooter also claimed that his marker JJ Delaney was bemused by Shefflin’s decision to opt for a point from his 68th minute penalty.
Now you have a back round, I shall give you my opinion, and that is Canning is taking what he may think is a calculated risk.
Canning is antagonizing Shefflin, a sure fire way of psyching any man up for battle, especially an All-Ireland where his victim is arguably the finest hurler to ever grace Ireland. Shefflin who is getting older in the tooth gave possibly his finest display Sunday, dragging his team back from the dead after the whirlwind Galway start, sparked by Canning’s early wonder goal. The argument is, can Shefflin bring that level of quality, composure and leadership to a Kilkenny team that is not AS good as it was, but still can reign supreme – again on the grandest stage of all??? History would suggest no, or, at least not to the same extent as on Sunday.
Canning’s statement does however, go deeper, as he is challenging the whole Kilkenny team. His statement about Delaney’s reaction to settling for a point from the penalty calls out the Kilkenny team unity and decision process. If players on any team fail to believe that the guy next to them in the changing room has their back or has disbelief in their decision making, it puts a doubt in their mind that will only niggle away until adversity allows it grow into one demoralizing, team destroying problem. Whether this applies to possibly the greatest hurler that has ever lived in Shefflin – I do not know. Kilkenny people and hurlers give no information away and say little to any adversary, while still in the knowledge they are the prestige, setting the standard that all hurling people live by.
Canning can claim it may be advantageous as it points out to the referee that perhaps Shefflin is no angel after all. Amusingly, the shouts of some neutrals such as myself on Sunday exclaimed “Ref (Barry Kelly) you are allowed book Shefflin too!”. Up to now the backs in Kilkenny have been pointed out for their on -the-edge physicality i.e Tommy Walsh, but the forwards are well able to throw their weight around too. Canning’s comments may alert the referee (TBA) of what side of the dividing line he should lie on, lenient or Galway.
Now. obviously Canning’s comments come with a health warning and a back-firing engine.
1. He has given the animal driver, the legendary Brian Cody articles and reams to place all over his dressing room wall, and when may I ask, has that ever been advisable?
2. Canning is calling out Shefflin and denouncing him. A man with no All-Ireland championship medal has committed treason against the man aiming for history, a record breaking 9 All-Ireland championships as well as probably being the finest hurler to ever grace us – and has called him unsportsmanlike. Shefflin as I have mentioned has this massive haul of medals. We could possibly forgive him if he was, at this stage, bereft of encouragement to dig at the well for more success, especially after having 3 career threatening injuries in a non-professional sport in 5 years . He continues to come back, every year as the standard setter, not missing a championship game since his debut 13 years ago – and now, “the young pretender” that was lined up to rise to the throne and steal the crown of the King has called him out – going by what we have seen, this makes Henry, scarily, an even more dangerous animal.
In this final swoop, what could (but probably wont) be a swansong on the grandest stage, a record setting replay in front of 82,000 people in his second home of Croke Park, the King can
(A): Defend his honour and legacy
(B): Become the most decorated hurler ever
(C): Destroy Canning, and if the backlash of Kilkenny is strong enough with a vast margin of victory – send Galway back 10 years of progression, while in the process, haunting the current crop of Western youth.
Canning is playing with fire, trying to scald the King Cat and Hurler of his generation. It was a risk Canning was either Ballsy enough to take or a throwaway remark he will live to regret, but either way, those words will have a huge influence on the psychological battle that takes place tactically between Cody and Cunningham, mentally among the players and in the plethora of Gods among the 2 protagonists – Kid Canning and King Shefflin.
Garbhan – 13/9/12