Colm Bonnar. Picture: Sportsfile
TWELVE months ago, Colm Bonnar was in the same place now occupied by Anthony Daly. Plotting Brian Cody’s June downfall.
Hoping Kilkenny would be vulnerable because it was their first championship outing, taking place at a venue that wasn’t Croke Park, their home from home.
It’s true that Wexford then (11/2) were longer odds than Dublin now (4/1) and were coming from a lowlier base. But they were on home turf, 16,000 had descended on Wexford Park dreaming of an upset, and even their pragmatic manager had spied reasons for cautious optimism in the counties’ league encounter at Nowlan Park three months earlier.
Then, Kilkenny led by nine (and should have been out of sight) at half-time but Wexford outscored them 0-11 to 0-7 in the second half. “At least we were competing at a level that we hadn’t been for a long time. That gave us a bit of hope going into the championship,” Bonnar recounts.
Instead, Wexford were playing catch-up from the moment Richie Hogan unleashed a stunning eighth-minute goal. Bonnar recalls Malachy Travers hitting the goalscorer with a shoulder that would have toppled many forwards; but Hogan had the “power and strength” to take the hit and accelerate away in another direction.
Crucially, Wexford failed to capitalise on a number of one-on-one chances in that first half, which meant they still trailed by five even after Jim Berry goaled just before the break and the “roof was lifted off the place”. Thereafter, there was no deviation from the pre-ordained script: Kilkenny ran out 11-point winners.
Bonnar thinks Dublin will get closer, but not close enough. He is anticipating a result that might mirror the 2009 Leinster final (when the battling underdogs lost by two goals) as opposed to their subsequent SHC encounters — Kilkenny romped home by 19 points in 2010 (Leinster semi) and by 11 points last summer (provincial final).
“I don’t think Dublin would get beaten like the last two years. If so, they haven’t learned,” he surmises.
The decisive factor, he believes, will be Kilkenny’s forward quality, citing their “movement, offloads, taking on a man, creating an overlap, and before you know it they bang in a couple of goals very quickly.” The Tipp native adds: “Dublin are physically equipped to match them and that in itself means you can contest the game with them.
“They are physically in great shape, well trained, well coached. But they have found to their cost that this Kilkenny team — if you give them an edge at all or go in with any kind of false hope — are just an unbelievable force.”
Their strength in depth is encapsulated by the example of TJ Reid. “I remember down in Waterford IT,” says Bonnar, “they were talking about Noel McGrath playing with UCD, and I was watching TJ Reid for two or three years and he was streets ahead of everybody in Fitzgibbon and couldn’t find a place (on the Kilkenny team).
“He had everything — ball-winning, touch, skill, vision; I know his shooting lets him down a small bit at times.
“Once he came in, I thought he was the last of the great players they had been producing, then everything would even out and they won’t produce such exceptional players … but Brian Cody goes off and finds another two or three players in the league this year, so I don’t know where it is going to end.”
– Frank Roche – Evening Herald