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Kilkenny's Worst League Defeats - And What Happened Afterwards

Kilkenny's Worst League Defeats - And What Happened Afterwards
By Conor Neville
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The nature of Kilkenny's loss to Clare yesterday has some of our more bullish pundits predicting that the Cody-era dominance is drawing to a close. A Last Word discussion on the topic this evening poses that dramatic question.

The 13-point loss in Ennis yesterday, combined with the home defeat to Waterford in week 1, has prompted many to proclaim the fall of the empire.

Speaking to RTE Sport today, Liam Sheedy charged into the fray, asserting that Kilkenny have "serious problems" and that they may struggle to contend for the All-Ireland this year.

Twelve points again yesterday, four in the second half. Seven of those came from TJ Reid. He has a forward line that's non-existent aside from TJ.

They look in real trouble. I know it's early days but certainly they look like a team that just doesn't have the quality to match their top-level opponents at the moment.

Ger Loughnane's views haven't been canvassed yet but historically he's been willing to write off Cody's Kilkenny on even scantier evidence. There's reasonable grounds to anticipate his views will chime with Sheedy.

Others are understandably cagey about all this.


As regards KK flopping on the canvas this summer, more cautious observers are taking an 'I'll believe it when I see it' approach. Folk have been burned before for partaking in that game. These people require extraordinary evidence to believe that Kilkenny are finished.

We know from Richie Hogan's interview on Second Captains 18 months ago that Kilkenny players, like players from every other county, hoard negative articles in their mind for future motivation. It doesn't take much to imagine Richie sitting in a TV studio next September offering a heartfelt thanks to all those talking heads who wrote Kilkenny off.

One question is - how reliable a guide is Kilkenny's League form to their championship performance? And how relevant is that anymore in KK's current situation.


In Brian Cody's time, Kilkenny have never really 'sat out' the League. They in no way resemble the Offaly team of the '90s, who regularly lost to Antrim and once shipped a 1-27 to 1-1 defeat to Galway in the year's early months. Offaly's shallow pool of talent meant their senior players didn't need to exert themselves in the National League. Cody's Kilkenny's players have never enjoyed that luxury.

Kilkenny have won eight National Leagues in Cody's time as manager, comfortably more than anyone else has accumulated in that period. Twice, they have failed to add Liam McCarthy later in the year - in 2005 and 2013.

There haven't been too many violent wobbles in the League (one of their most violent wobbles of all was the 2012 Leinster Final but they still won the All-Ireland after that).


During the noughties, their consistency was remarkable. In 2004, they did slump to 4th in the six-team Division 1A, which was non-elite and equivalent in quality to 1B at that time. One should be careful about reading too much into this. They won three games and lost two and the whole division was on a knife edge.  Under the then structure, they were obliged to compete in a six-team relegation grouping with the likes of Laois, Dublin and Wexford. Unsurprisingly, they won five from five.

For what it's worth, Kilkenny did not win that year's All-Ireland, losing both the Leinster final to Wexford and the championship decider to Wexford. However, as a demonstration of how unreliable league form can be, they demolished the League champions Galway in a qualifier in Thurles.

Most years, they have bounced back brilliantly from early year setbacks.



Here are some of the panicky moments in the League in  recent years and how they responded later in the summer.

2011  League Final

Dublin 0-22  Kilkenny 1-7


Kilkenny scraped into the League final after winning 4 games, losing 1 and drawing 2 in the League phase proper. On May Day 2011, they suffered possibly their most famous of all League reversals - a 12 point defeat to Anthony Daly's emerging Dublin in Croke Park.

There were mitigating circumstances here. Kilkenny were sorely depleted and missing most of their golden era A-listers. The holy trinity of Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney were all sidelined.

Still, coming off the back of their failure to complete the five-in-a-row, it fired the starter pistol on another round of doom laden predictions.


The response - Kilkenny mauled Dublin in the Leinster Final and two months later regained Liam McCarthy against Tipperary. Like 2006, one of their most cherished All-Ireland victories, as it arrived following a season where they'd surrendered the crown.

2015 League - getting drawn into a relegation playoff

Kilkenny's flattest display in the League in the entire Cody era. After losing three of their first four matches, they were forced to partake in a relegation playoff against bottom placed Clare. Admittedly, the current league structure is highly competitive and it is very easy to get sucked into this position.

Either way, they pipped Clare by a point in Nowlan Park and didn't descend to the depths of 1B. In the league phase proper, their most alarming result was a 12 point defeat to Tipperary in round 4.

The response - Kilkenny claimed possibly their most routine, no-frills All-Ireland in the Cody era. After four matches - against Wexford, Waterford and Galway (x2) - they collected another Liam McCarthy Cup.

The relative ease with which this All-Ireland was won provoked a greater than normal level of despair among both rival counties and neutrals hungry for variety at the top.

This was not least because many had assumed the departure of their brightest stars from the noughties would presage the end of an era of dominance. Quite the contrary, they looked more dominant than ever. For the first time, not one member of the Kilkenny squad was around when Cody claimed his first All-Ireland as manager in 2000.

2016 - League semi-final

Only last year, Clare administered a beating almost as pronounced in the League semi-final. Kilkenny's form had been reasonable in the early stages, topping 1B after losing to Waterford in the opening match.

4-22 to 2-19 was the final score in Semple Stadium last April. Nay-sayers were relatively thin on the ground afterwards. Kilkenny were still on course for a three-in-a-row and most were content to regard it as a blip.

The response - Their dominance looked as rock solid as ever it was in the Leinster campaign. However, they survived a scare against Waterford in a memorable All-Ireland semi-final saga and then lost comprehensively against Tipp in the Munster Final, on a day when their lack of depth on the bench became fully apparent.

This time it's different?

In 2011, 2012 and 2015, Kilkenny have suffered striking defeats of 10 points or more early in the year and have finished up as All-Ireland champions.

But the anxieties are greater now. Kilkenny aren't pulling up trees at underage level anymore.

They did surprise Limerick in the 2014 minor final but their record in U21 is causing greatest alarm. They have only one Leinster title at the grade this decade (2012) and haven't won the All-Ireland since 2008. Last year, Westmeath famously beat them in Cusack Park.

Is it time to dust off the (widely discredited) Joe Brolly quote about Kerry a couple of years back - is the production line finished in Kilkenny?

It is this detail that has people worried. On the Last Word tonight, Liam Fennelly questioned the relevance of referring back to the 2015 League and championship performances and predicted that Kilkenny will have to rebuild over the next few years.

In past years, Kilkenny people have growled about suggestions

I think it's slightly different (to 2015). I think the talent is not available to Brian Cody is not there anymore. He's the type of person who'll relish a challenge but definitely, he'll have to perform a miracle this year to win the All-Ireland.

His greatest two All-Ireland wins were the last two when he won with a team that was on the way down and he worked his magic. And I do feel they'll be hard to beat in the championship but the talent in Kilkenny is not there no more.

We all knew down the road that the underage hurling scene was not that strong and that Kilkenny have been very poor at minor level and U21 level in the last few years.

The All-Ireland titles may dry up for a couple of years. But try not to tell anyone.

Read more: Lads, It's February: Calm The Feck Down About League Results

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