Kilkenny and the myth of personality
I guess it served me right. I suppose it was bound to happen. I was down with the brother in Cork the other week. In a bar, behind enemy lines. As you may expect, drink was taken. And given the fact that we are Kilkenny men, and Kilkenny fans, it was obvious that Hurling was going to be a topic of conversation. And given the fact that drink was involved, we, or to be more pertinent, I, may have been talking a tad louder than necessary.
So there we were, discussing the merits of the previous week’s All-Ireland, when one of the Cork fellows came sidling up to us and pondered aloud if he could get involved. He was an eminently pleasant chap, and he knew his hurling, so we were happy to oblige. “Ye had a great team lads….” he said, discussing the Kilkenny 2006-16 variety. It was magnanimous of him to say that, although, since Kilkenny had won 8 All-Ireland’s since Cork’s last, maybe it was the only option. “But ye had no personality…”
Ah, there’s the caveat. That old chestnut. Kilkenny are a great team, but sure, what good is it, if ye don’t have the personality? What’s the point in winning, if the lads (allegedly) can’t enjoy themselves while doing it? Now granted, he’s not the first man to use this line. May I introduce to you, exhibit A, Mr Tommy Conlon of the Sunday independent. Now Tommy, god bless him, was never the biggest Kilkenny fan. Not that he’d say that explicitly. Not that they’d allow you to say that in a reputable Sunday newspaper. But given half a chance, he’s never been shy in making his voice heard.
I remember in his preview for the 2006 All-Ireland Tommy boldly asserted that he wanted Cork to win on the basis that, anytime he saw Kilkenny he only saw “A collection of helmets”. Cork, with the helmetless Diarmaid O’Sullivan and Sean Og O’Hailpin, were more recognizable and therefore, the theory goes, more lovable. Now that Cork 2003-2006 was an exceptional team, but I don’t think the fact that Kilkenny were more concerned with their facial safety than their opponents, should have been used as a stick to beat them with.
Tommy was at it again the week after the 2013 All-Ireland final. Now the fact that Clare won the All-Ireland that year was a cause for celebration for most hurling fans. As a man who loves the underdog in sport, I completely understand that. But Tommy just saw this as another excuse to dig the knife further into the back of his arch nemesis. “When Kilkenny were wrapping up title after title over the last 15 years it was always about them and nobody else. An introverted team would take the cup back to an introverted county and everyone else would get on with their lives. Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions. They weren’t necessarily national champions”
Of course the fact that, maybe people wanted Clare to win because they had 3 All-Irelands and Kilkenny 34 may have been lost on Tommy. Oh no, it’s nothing to do with that. It’s because Kilkenny are introverted. So Kilkenny are a great team and all that, but they have no personality? Ok. I want to call this now. It’s nonsense. Absolute balderdash. One of the laziest, most ridiculous clichés that ever got trotted out.
The case for the prosecution? Well Cody seemingly drove Charlie Carter out in 2003, perhaps just because he said training wasn’t fun any more and had gone “awful serious”. Then there was Cha Fitzpatrick who was a bit of a joker, a DJ, liked a drink. He finished early. And there was never much seen of John Mullhall after his infamous Supercats song at the 2011 homecoming.
The case for the defence? Well what if I mention TJ Reid tweeting Rihanna (“Thanks Rihanna, you know your hurling”) after the Leinster Championship semi-final of 2014? How about Paul Murphy tweeting the unfortunate Michael Fennelly a few weeks ago when he was asking for film suggestions “You can watch Troy, Brad Pitt plays a character called Achille…actually, maybe don’t watch it” Or Tommy Walsh’s uproarious speech at the 2009 homecoming in Ballyhale? Or what about Richie Hogan’s 20 questions on this very site a few weeks ago? Kilkenny, both as individuals and collectively, have personality.
Here’s a thought actually, maybe Kilkenny are perceived as having no personality, because they put the thought of winning before showing it? Maybe, rather than valuing who’s the biggest joker in the team, Brian Cody values who’s the hardest worker, the most determined to win. Maybe all of those individual cases (Carter, Mullhall, Cha) were merely sideshows to the fact that Cody thought their desire or ability was waning.
I can just imagine the response the manager would have got at the homecoming a week or so if he had turned up and said “We won no All-Ireland this year, but jaysus, we had some craic lads didn’t we?” For Cody, first is first and second is nowhere. And maybe Cork and all other hurling counties in Ireland resent that. But don’t they all wish their county teams had the same attitude?
It’s funny that our Cork friend from earlier on hinted that while the great Kilkenny team of the last 10 years had no personality, the Cork team of the mid 00’s did. At the same time, I’m always intrigued by the amount of Kilkenny hurlers (Richie Power, Tommy Walsh, James Ryall etc) who deem the 2006 success against Cork their favourite All-Ireland. I have a theory to posit on this. What was deemed “personality” by Cork, was deemed arrogance by Kilkenny.
Now I don’t wish to dismiss that Cork teams achievements by any means. They were a terrific side. But the idea that they were some sort of master race of the best prepared sportspeople ever, really stuck in the craw. Take for example Brian Corcoran’s autobiography from 2006 which blithely outlined the differences between their team and Waterford. And I guess, the fact that Waterford team lacked both helmets and teeth, meant they had the most personality of all.
In “our world”, according to Brian Corcoran, Cork were “playing for greatness in the history of hurling”. Waterford, on the other hand, were “Losing. Fighting amongst themselves. Playing for oneself, not the team. Relying on luck. Bringing others down to their level” Maybe Cork just beat Waterford because they were a better team and, coming from a more successful county, knew how to win. But that seemed to escape Brian. I think Henry Shefflin put it best in his autobiography a year ago “There’s a pretty fine line between cleverness and bullshit”
So you want an underdog to win the All-Ireland next year? Fine, so do I actually. And the Kilkenny hurlers want to win above everything else? Great. Is that not what they’re supposed to do? So if they win, give them credit. And please don’t give me this rubbish about personality. That argument died out long ago.
Written by Mark Townsend
Sportstalk Guest Columnist